A few years ago (and by "few" I mean ten or so...and that's where I'm leaving it), I travelled a fair distance to work each morning making my way into the CBD via either bus or train. Because I cannot pinpoint the exact year, I cannot remember exactly which mode of transport is relevant to this story but as I am leaning towards 1996/1997 (yes, okay...so a little more than ten years maybe) I am inclined to believe it is the bus. Travelling what seemed to be the same route a few times, was a young man who appeared to be roughly the same age and whose constant companion was his remarkable guide dog. So many times I watched the intriguing pair navigate the busy streets along Cape Town's Foreshore and brave the city's public transport (which was a courageous enough task for even the sighted) and could not help but stare intensely at the young man, hoping for the slightest sign of sight because my heart broke a little each time I saw him, at the thought of his having to encounter such formidable challenges each and every day...alone. While my memory is a little sketchy about the minor details (like whether we were travelling by bus or train, what with them being so similar and all) after all my "intense staring", it would be fair to say that I'd have recognised his face anywhere!
A week ago our NPO held a fundraising event and the guest speaker was a gentleman by the name of Hein Wagner - A blind man with vision. Hein, who now lives predominantly in Sweden with his lovely wife and daughter, hails from South Africa and had travelled to his country of birth alone to speak at our function. I had read his biography a hundred times by then, had copied it into several media documents...but had never thought to look at any pictures. Hein's lifetime accomplishments read like something out of an incredible feel-good movie. Few sighted men could achieve all that he has, so to say I was excited and very nearly intimidated to meet him would be fair. Hein entered the venue on the arm of a colleague and my heart stopped. Yes it had been about...ahem...ten years (give or take another ten) but that face was all too familiar. His presentation was profound! Amongst other things, Hein spoke about how grateful he was to his parents for insisting he learn to become independent, placing him in a boarding school for visually-impaired students 100km away at just five years old! While I have no plans to ship Sam off to boarding school (although this is a traditional punishment I have threatened all of my children with), Hein's message inspired me to rethink the way in which I approach Sam's challenges and, in turn, the attitude I instil within him to approach those challenges.
Having done several rounds with many of the obstacles Sam struggles with the most already, I thought it was worthwhile revisiting the more fundamental tasks which, although perhaps appearing "basic" to many, would make a significant difference to our daily lives. So first up was independent feeding - with the complex puzzle which makes up the lil flappy dude's brain, one of his trickiest challenges is fine and gross motor planning leaving eating independently as something we have not yet been able to master. This weekend seemed as good a time as any to try again...
Sam's movements lately seem to be hindered by an increasing amount of tremors and shakiness, but after a few more tries he really seemed to get the hang of manipulating the spoon which also seemed to ease the flow of his movements a little. A change in utensils (I foresee mountains of dirty dishes in my future while we figure this out) and Sam was not only more comfortable with the process, but was even scooping up stray food from his chin!
We will of course spend some time on this new goal before we move on to something else (and right now I can't even imagine what that something else would be) but, as with any form of progress for a child with specific needs, the joy of seeing how impressed Sam was with himself and the encouragement of what a little perseverance and motivation can do, was pretty darn awesome!
And so...did I ever find out if Hein is in fact the young man who I witnessed so many years ago? I'll never know!! My lacking self-confidence and social awkwardness prevented me from asking him outright, despite him being very friendly and approachable. I have considered indulging in some Facebook creeping (because once you've been an intense starer there's little else more inappropriate) to see if I might come across a photo of him at around twenty years of age but the thought of finding him with a short, trendy hairstyle then like he wears now as opposed to the long, almost shoulder-length bob I remember the young man having then, would be strangely disappointing. So, for now, I fancy the idea that Hein Wagner is in fact the blind, young man upon whom my senseless sorrow was wasted as while I thought he was out feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable, he was in fact out conquering and overcoming 💜