March 14, 2015 - Lance (1st person I approached)
All week I had been planning to take yesterday off, and do nothing. I intentionally kept my calendar free. It was far removed from the days of isolating under the grey of depression. It was more about balance than avoidance. It felt good to recognize that it felt different too. Chipping away at the greyness of depression one day at a time is working for me, most days. Turns out I’m glad I took the day off.
The story I wrote and posted about Nikki on Thursday attracted a lot of attention. It certainly resonated with me. For others, including several who were supported in one way or another, by Nikki in their past, it was powerful and moving. Everyone has a story, and each story has it’s own impact. I spent a lot of time reading, contemplating and replying to the many comments people left, as well as replying to direct messages I received. It was a good measure of the impact and awareness raised through sharing our stories and personal experiences.
I dropped off a prescription at the drugstore today, and had some time to wait before it would be ready for pick-up. I planned to go out and look for today’s story, and then collect the prescription on the way home. I saw Lance just as I was walking out of the store. He was paying for his purchases. He had on dark sunglasses and a set of headphones, with one ear uncovered so as to hear the person helping him. I walked out of the store, and waited outside for a minute or two and when he didn't come out, I went back inside.
He was sitting in a chair, next to the entrance. I approached him and explained my project to him and asked if he'd be willing to chat with me.
“Well that depends on what you want to know,” he said, with a bit of laughter in his voice. I told him that I was working on a project exploring connection, community and conversation with strangers. I told him I was curious to know about his life, from childhood onwards. I also explained that I’m not a journalist and that he didn’t have to talk about anything he chose not to. He laughed and took his headphones off.
“Sure. I’m waiting for the HandyDart bus to come and get me. They usually call to say they’re on the way, and I’ve not heard from them yet, so I have some time,” he told me. I crouched down on the floor next to the chair Lance was seated on.
“I’m from here, Vancouver. Born just on the outskirts, in New Westminster, at Royal Columbian Hospital,” he said.
“I have siblings, yes,” he said when I asked him. He offered no more information.
“Well, I have two of each, brothers and sisters,” he offered after I asked more specifically about his family.
“I’m the second oldest. I don’t have any contact with either of my brothers, or my father. I call him the sperm donor. That should tell you enough,” he laughed.
“I am in contact with my sisters and my mother.”
Lance was born blind.
“My headlights don’t work,” he told me. He can’t see anything.
“Both of my parents had issues, or at least they both wore glasses, that much I know. I’m not sure if it runs in either side of the family. But my baby sister is blind as well,” Lance said.
“I was misdiagnosed as an infant. They told my parents I was mentally, well they used a word we don’t use anymore. But the diagnosis was that I was mentally (disabled). Of course, I wasn’t, but back then, my parent’s took what the high-and-mighty doctors said, to be correct,” he told me.
“I went to (a school for the blind). It was a dreadfully awful, horrible place back then. I was there when it was a boarding school, in those days. My parents figured it was for the best. There were staff working there who were mean and abusive. Emotionally, and physically. Pedophiles who preyed on the kids. They threatened to kill you if you ever dared to say anything,” he said. Lance was abused while there.
"I’m left handed as well, so that had it’s problems too. They tried to ‘correct’ it. I’d get hit over the knuckles every time they saw me using my left hand. I was constantly punished and hit for not using my right hand,” he told me.
When I asked Lance what grade he completed in school, he corrected me.
“You mean what grade did I get kicked out in, Colin? Grade ten. I was always a bit of a rebel,” he said with pride in his voice.
“They wanted me to talk my baby sister into going to the school. I flat refused. There was no way I wanted her going there. I couldn’t imagine what would happen to her. They said if I didn’t encourage and support my sister going to the school, that they would no longer teach me, and that I’d have to leave. So I left,” he said. Lance was twenty years old when he left the school.
“They held me back in a few of my grades.”
“I went to work for the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind). I did all kinds of things. A lot of basketry, I was good with my hands. I would fix radio’s for my friends as well. Just for my own interest. I liked that kind of thing,” he said. Lance moved into a care home for blind and deaf people when he left the boarding school.
“I lived there for a while. I also lived in a group home for a bit as well. Then I moved out on my own,” he told me.
We chatted about hearing.
"It’s a myth you know. The myth that people who are blind can hear better. It’s not true. Everyone hears differently and at different levels. I might say to someone ‘Did you hear that?’ and they say no. Their hearing can be good but they just don’t hear at that level. One person might not hear it and the person next to them can,” he said. There was a machine making a beeping noise off in the background. I used that as an example.
“Exactly!” Lance said.
“Everything has a sound. It’s just a matter of learning what that sound is,” he said.
“I also don’t care for labels, not at all. People use labels for everything and it’s not right. Doesn’t matter if someone is black, or Chinese or white. We’re all people first. That’s what matters. Not labels. I don’t care for them at all,” he told me.
For most of his adult life, Lance has used guide dogs to assist him.
“I lived in the same house for thirty-four years. But the dogs have helped me with everything. Sure I knew that house incredibly well, but the dogs helped me get around. I’ve had four dogs. And each of them have been my best friend. I don’t have a dog right now. My last dog died suddenly of a heart attack last year. I’m supposed to be getting a new dog soon though. Once that happens, I’ll be back riding the public bus system again. I’m only using HandyDart because I don’t have a guide dog,” he said. Lance has had to move a few times over the last few years.
“Well, it takes time getting to know a new place. I have a lady-friend, just as a room mate and we help each other out,” he said.
After his time working at the CNIB, Lance got a job working for a speaker company.
“I did repairs and built speaker systems. As in music speakers,” he told me.
"I’ve always been good with my hands, as I said. I’ve done some wood carving too.” Lance has never married and has no children.
“They’re too expensive,” he says with hearty laughter.
“It means I’ve got more money for myself!”
In November of last year, Lance, who is in his sixties, started a college course.
“I’m back at school learning to use a system they have for computers. I’m taking a keyboarding course right now. I use a tablet and things, and they’ve been around for a while of course, but I started a bit later. I’m learning now so that I can help to improve the courses for people who have impaired vision. Then I’ll go on and learn more about the software to help me operate the computer,” he said. I asked Lance if he has professional aspirations in computers.
“No, I’m doing this for my own personal interest. You’ve got to keep the mind active and sharp, you know,” he tells me.
Reaching over, I place my hand on Lance’s and thank him for chatting. We shake hands. I realized later I hadn't asked if I could shake his hand. Although Lance seemed to be absolutely fine with it, I made a mental note to always remember to ask.
His headphones were in his other hand, and I asked him what he likes to listen to.
“I try to get CJOB, a radio station out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s a favourite of mine,” he tells me.
“There’s a similarity in their ideals and morals that I agree with.”
I ask Lance if there is anything that he feels is better, or that he does better because of being blind.
“Memory,” he says instantly.
“Nowadays everyone with their smart phones and technology, and no one can remember anything. I’ve always had to remember where everything is and use my memory. It’s not that my memory is any better, I just use it more than most people do. Always have done. Everyone has the ability, but they don’t exercise it. I do.” #notastranger