Touching the Rock is a series of journal entries from John M. Hull about his experience of blindness. It takes place in the early 1980s when John is transitioning from having sight to just having gone completely blind. Through this process, he describes the everyday annoyances, different ways of approaching common tasks, questions from his kids, well-meaning but ultimately harmful “help” from others, a vivid dream life, and grappling with his faith. It’s a fascinating book. Here are some topics that came up quite often and that stuck out to me:
Many “sighted” people attempt to help out John doing everyday tasks. These well-meaning people usually end up making things harder. For example, people will see John walking down the street and assume he needs help to get where he is going. For John, it’s either all or nothing. He either needs to be left alone to concentrate on the route or he needs 100% guidance. If someone comes up and starts a conversation while he’s walking, he loses all concentration on his route. He also talks about a lot of the well-intentioned “help” as diminishing his dignity.
John has a number of dreams throughout the book. This stuck out to me. For some reason, I guess I assumed without really ever having had thought about it that a blind person would not be able to “see” dream content. Not the case. John has vivid dreams in full color. He even talks about “how much I have come to depend upon dreams for entertainment.” Dreams are his escape.
John had a sort of crisis of faith during his college years, while he was not yet blind. We learn about this in the intro of the book. I expected this crisis of faith to lead to a bitter agnosticism or atheism later in life after going blind. That was not the case. John’s faith continued strong and he did not shy away from the hard questions. That was refreshing to see and some of those sections were the most poignant in the book.
I learned a lot about the experience of blind people in this book. Here are some examples:
- Most people assume rain makes things harder for a blind person. A sighted person slips in the rain, so it would seem a blind person would too. Not so. The rain actually assists with acoustics, the necessary component of a blind person’s navigation.
- Stairs are not dangerous for a blind person. They are usually uniform and there is a railing. Wide open spaces are what are hard for a blind person.
- Due to sensory adaption, crossing an intersection is just as safe for a blind person as a sighted person, maybe even more so now that everyone is looking down at cell phones these days.
Touching the Rock is a relatively short book and an important read. It will help you understand the experience of a blind person and how you can better “help” that person. It will also help you to “see” other things in your life. Funny how it can take someone who can’t see to get you to see what you’ve been missing.