The Sound of Human Potential
I don’t often get the opportunity to marvel at the seemingly limitless potential of human beings to overcome severe personal obstacles. Usually, I’m motivated to write by cruelty, bigotry, foolishness, excess, crookery or some combination thereof. This post is different. A friend recently sent me a simply remarkable story (pulled from People Magazine, of all sources) about a young, blind man named Ben Underwood who uses echolocation to navigate the world around him. That’s right. Echolocation. Up until now, I’ve only heard this term applied to bats and dolphins as a way by which they emit high-pitched sounds to determine the distance and location of objects. In short, it’s the way these animals use sound to replace sight.
According to this incredible story, Ben Underwood a fourteen year old kid from Sacramento who, as a result of retinal cancer, has been completely blind since age three, is able to use echolocation to walk and run around, play basketball and video games, skateboard and perform a wide range of tasks without assistance from others. The authors of the article, Alex Tresniowski and Ron Arias write:
“Ben has learned to perceive and locate objects by making a steady stream of sounds with his tongue, then listening for the echoes as they bounce off the surfaces around him. About as loud as the snapping of fingers, Ben's clicks tell him what's ahead: the echoes they produce can be soft (indicating metals), dense (wood) or sharp (glass). Judging by how loud or faint they are, Ben has learned to gauge distances.”
It’s difficult for me to explain the joy I felt while reading this piece. Learning about Ben’s resourcefulness and courage was like receiving a salve. Here’s a young brother with prosthetic eyes whose motto is, “I’m not blind. I just can’t see,” and believes he can accomplish anything in this life that he chooses to undertake.
Yet, I’m certainly no Pollyanna. I realize the hardships that Ben will have to endure as he negotiates relationships or career, and the difficulties he’ll face when he leaves the nest and clambers into adulthood. I also recognize that he may occasionally be stymied by the pity, condescension and low expectations of others. But my hope is that Ben will surmount those challenges in much the same way that he has compensated for his blindness – with character and resolve. I also hope that those of us, like me, who are too often distracted by inanity and immorality, will, by Ben’s example, have their hope in human nature renewed. If only fleetingly.