“Are you sure you don’t notice anything unusual about my face?” I asked her again.

It was Saturday afternoon. A gorgeous sunny day at a winery somewhere among the vineyards of Napa County. We’d been chatting about ten minutes when it struck me that this was the first time I’d ever met and had a conversation with someone who didn’t do that awkward double-take, nervously looking away from my face and back again, trying to figure out what was going on with me and which eye to look into.

I’d seen that response all my life. Having been born minus one optic nerve, my left eye generally just floated around. That plus the thick lenses I wore for the severe myopia in my "good" eye meant I was teased regularly in school.

Molly Nov 1964I remember standing against the gym wall with the two learning-disabled kids in my class, feeling humiliated that the team captains couldn’t decide which among the three of us to choose next.

You develop a thick skin. You come to understand that what a person looks like on the surface may not tell an accurate story about their capabilities and who they are.

I remember transferring to a new high school my sophomore year and, upon arriving my first day, being immediately escorted by a kind lady to the classroom for students with physical and mental limitations.

You learn to speak up for yourself.

“This can’t be my classroom,” I said. “It must be a mistake.”

I remember spending an entire summer trying to learn how to return a tennis ball until I realized, this is just not the sport for me. Along with baseball, basketball, frisbee . . .

You become resilient. You work hard to discover where you can excel.

I remember a woman in an aerobics class, who’d apparently gotten herself all worked up by the time she finally turned around and screamed: “Why do you keep staring at me?!”

You learn to smile at the little ironies of life. Before that moment, I hadn’t even known she was there.

I remember a young woman in college I’d just met who said flat out, “Why don’t you get that eye fixed? It’s really unattractive.”

You develop empathy. It’s been said that facial defects are the most difficult for people to accept, and I’ve noticed that is true for me, too, when I meet people who have them.

“No, I don’t notice anything unusual about your face,” the woman sipping the chardonnay said again. “Now you must tell me why you’re asking!”

Mali post-surgeryWhat was different that day in Napa was that I’d just recovered from surgery to straighten my eye. It wasn’t 100% successful, but enough so that my misbehaving eye wasn’t the first thing someone noticed upon meeting me.

What a freeing feeling that was!

And yet . . .

This “defect” has been such a gift to me. The more I contemplate my blind eye and limited vision, the more I learn from it, the more I see how this “disability” has helped to shape who I am.

I’ve always recognized that my visual limitations encouraged my other senses to develop more fully, including my intuitive senses. Navigating life without them would be much harder than navigating it minus one eye.

Seeing the world without normal depth perception has made me into someone who searches for the depth in everything.

Having precarious vision in my sighted eye, with no spare to count on, has made me incredibly grateful for this truly magical sense. I’ve always been in love with sight. If you know me, you know I never take a sunrise, a rainbow, a baby’s face, or the cross-section of a red pepper for granted. (And I'll try to make sure you don't, either!)

Mali todayA while back, I overheard a couple in a restaurant talking about their baby daughter. They had just found out that she was blind in one eye. They sounded scared, really worried about what effects this would have on her life.

I just couldn't not go over and introduce myself.

“I wouldn’t say that there haven’t been challenges along the way,” I told them, “but facing those challenges has everything to do with the person I am today. Yes, she probably won’t be a natural at softball or tennis, she will need to learn some special tricks to be able to parallel park, but with you helping her to discover all the gifts in her special circumstances, her life is going to be exceptional.”

If you’re dealing with a challenging life situation, what’s to lose by spending a little time contemplating what gifts that situation just might have for you? 

~Mali Apple, coauthor of The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships52 Prescriptions for Happiness, and the upcoming book The Soulmate Lover

15 Replies to “The Gifts of a Blind Eye”

  1. Exquisite! I was going to ask you awhile ago how you maneuver with visual challenges. Obviously, you are able to compensate. You have ‘clearer vision’ than many with two good eyes, since you see from your heart. As someone who had childhood asthma, and was flat footed and pigeon toed, I never let it limit me, nor did my parents. As a result, I worked harder to prove that I could keep up with the other kids. It did come back to bite me in the butt later on, since the Type A workaholic I became, had its roots back then. We have the opportunity to grow from everything that we might consider a limitation. Big Love to you! <3

  2. Since I met you in yoga, I was attracted more to your energy and blazing red hair. You are a natural beauty with or without a floating eye.

  3. A dear nine-year-old sent me this sweet note:

    Mommy let me stay up late to read your story. You are so lucky to have such a special gift of an angel eye. It is your spirit eye that helps you see heaven. I think you are the most beautiful person in all of your pictures especially the baby picture. It is precious just like you. It is my favorite. I love you, Francesca.

    I just LOVE her giving me these new ways to think about this “gift”!

  4. Thank you for sharing your own story, Anna; I totally relate to your experience, too.

    I confess that when I hear people complain about their “bad eyesight” when they’re just experiencing, for example, normal, age-related difficulty in reading without glasses, I’m often compelled to say something to remind them that the eyesight they DO have is a miracle and they should be grateful for all it’s done for them. And sometimes I keep my big mouth shut… ☺

    Our experiences are also different in an interesting way. My “disability” is mostly invisible to people—even if they notice something’s off, they have no idea what the world looks like through my eyes. I’ve enjoyed that, like it’s my little secret. I like the personal challenge of not letting on to others by not complaining about it, not letting it limit me.

    As to your question of whether I’d change it if I could, I have to, with slight reluctance, say no. Because I absolutely KNOW that it’s inspired me to develop the aspects of myself that I appreciate the most.

    Perhaps next life… ♥

  5. I relate to this article *so much*!, in multiple ways. I have a pretty severe speech impediment, and it’s both hard and fascinating observing how it affects me, my life, and how people interact with me. And not all in the ways you might think.

    I’ve had friends talk angstfully to me about a child or other young relative dealing with a minor speech impediment (way minor – nothing vaguely at all like mine), and I just don’t know what to say. I wouldn’t wish my stuttering on anyone, it’s been really hard, it sounds awful, it’s limited me in certain ways, I would change it myself if I could do so with the push of a button, I would certainly be running to a speech therapist if *my* child were showing any symptoms. Yet…at the same time…when they are so horribly anxious about it, I have this feeling of, oh, jeez, am I *that* flawed? Is it really so bad that they are this terrified of it?
    This is totally illogical, as I absolutely think having a bad speech impediment is quite severely sucky and should be avoided like the plague. But to have people express such fear about it – and without even acknowledging that this is an intensely personal topic for me (there’s oddly never any mention of the topic having any relevance for me personally) – is just…jarring? Painful? Something.

    I definitely relate to having to fight the assumption of mental deficiency. Oooooooh yes – I know that one. I’ve got a slight edge, as a speech impediment is not visually perceivable, so I can pass that way, but once I open my mouth, good luck. You can see the uncertainty creep into people’s faces. I’ve developed skills for persevering and for seeking out socially reassuring conversation avenues to reassure people and set them at their ease. Learning to focus on other people in conversation has helped not just with navigating my speech in social situations, but also with making socializing easier and more enjoyable for me generally.

    I totally agree with Mali about the gift thing. There are definitely good things my speech impediment has brought me, as hard and disagreeable as it’s been. Better people in my life (less-than-quality people tend not to want to hang with people who sound like I do). Better social skills, counterintuitively, as mentioned above. And other more intangible things. My speech sucks, frankly, and if I could change it magically, I would. Yet…if I could go back and take it out of my life until now, with the incorporated risk that I might be less who I am and risk winding up with less good people around me and less maybe of some of the things I value about myself…I dunno…I don’t know that I would risk that. I think I likely wouldn’t.

    Great article, Mali!

  6. Lisa, that’s so cool! All I ever have to do is think of all the millions of people who face far more difficult challenges in their lives than I can even imagine, and mine are suddenly in perspective. ♥

    And L.D., thank you for pulling out those two quotes! I’m so very grateful to have had the life experiences I’ve had so that I can share all that’s worked so beautifully for me! ♥

  7. One of my favorite’s from “The Soulmate Experience” is “If you’re in judgement of another person, you can be sure there’s something about the situation you don’t know!” and “True self worth does not depend on what others think of you.” Thank you Mali. This book and the thoughts contained have changed my life.

  8. Beautiful post!! Thank you for sharing this part of yourself with us. The way you turn something that many would see as a disability into an amazing gift is an inspiration. You have inspired me to look at my life from a new perspective. Thank you!

  9. Nina, I love the idea of my own story having an effect on someone younger, because of the perspective of the adults around, not focusing on the “problem” so much as the possible opportunities. ♥

    Cynthia, energy is everything, ain’t it? Yes, the parents were so relieved and I left them much more relaxed and grateful than when I’d found them. I had also explained to them that when my parents were called into the physician’s office, he’d actually said: “I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is, she’s not blind in BOTH eyes.” ♥

    Gayla, thank you for your unwavering support and love. It’s interesting the language you’ve chosen here: ‘Your “Super Powers” that allow you to see what others are missing.’ I’ve always felt that this is my most precious gift. And know that you possess all that you recognize in others. ♥

    Sky: Thank you for your ever-positive presence. Kisses right back at you! ♥

    And my dear Kristi: It was YOU who lured me into the water by making me an offer I couldn’t refuse: “Oh, Mali, so you’re afraid of swimming? Well then, knowing how you like to tackle your fears, we’re all signed up for a triathlon. Three weeks from today. That’s plenty of time to prepare.” I love you. ♥

  10. Mali, the lesson of seeing the opportunity and gifts in negative reactions,feelings, and self judgement, etc… is so strong and valuable. From the moment I met you, I have admired the way you tackle things, even when they are not easy. One that sticks with me is your plunge into the swimming world!! The fears of drowning and lack of sight surely make you a candidate for steering clear of it, but no! Instead, you started to live and breathe swimming… you persisted! This is such a strength in you and deeply relates to your story of overcoming obstacles…It was beautiful to read about your story and see the photos from childhood to now- thank you for sharing- it is such a reminder to me and I will spread your message- thank you! xoxo

  11. Dear Mali,

    What a remarkable woman you are! I always knew it ;-) without knowing this part of your story.

    It is incredibly empowering and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing!

    Much Love to you and Joe!

  12. Hi Mali!

    I think of you and Joe often since I am now going on year 2 of my own soulmate relationship… and I’ve had to squeeze a lot out of those few weeks I spent with you, tucked under your wings for a bit! I’ve said to myself, several times, how am I looking at this situation and am I sure I am seeing it correctly?

    Your essay gave me a deeper sense of appreciation for your “Super Powers” that allow you to see what others are missing. I thought I was “deep” until I spoke with you and received refreshing perspectives on things…

    Thank you and Thank Joe, too! You are an extraordinary couple of beings who are living an amazing example of care, love, compassion, friendship, and joy!


  13. Thank you for sharing what the “damage” to your eye has done to help shape a deeper vision of the world. I hope those parents were encouraged by the way you reached out to them that day. I also blog about marriage from an energy-system perspective, and hope you will enjoy my post “Honey, I have a new spiritual path: Is this a reason for a breakup?”. See you on Facebook!

  14. Beautiful, inspiring, and touching… Mali, thank you for sharing your story! As someone who works with infants with special needs and as someone with an eye condition, your positive and honest words resonated deeply.

    Thank you!

    ~ Nina

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