Absolutely fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4, looking at the cases of Sidney Bradford and Mike May, both of whom lost their sight very early in life, and were then lucky enough to be able to have it restored years later.
What is it like to grow up blind, and then be able to see again? One might think it would be happy and miraculous. But in the case of Sidney Bradford, it was far more complex. ‘He was a very successful blind person, who became a rather disabled seeing person.’ Having fantasised about seeing for so long, the visual world, when it finally opened up to him, was a huge disappointment. He became clinically depressed, and died only two years after his sight was restored.
Sight, it would seem, is not the ability to see, but the ability to understand and comprehend the visual information that is presented to us. “Without accumulating visual experience from which the brain can make sense of what the eyes see, vision is of little use.”
Like all good radio, I’ve been left with lots of interesting thoughts which need some time to process. If Jesus did restore Bartimaeus’ sight, did he do anything to help him cope with this trauma of seeing? Indeed, after all of these miraculous changes that we read in the gospels – people being brought back to life, cured of life-long illnesses – there’s little sense of the huge pastoral task that Bradford’s case suggests should be in place to bring people to genuine wholeness.
May has been more successful at coping with his new sighted life. But has also had to deal with disappointment. Seeing was the be-all-and-end-all that he hoped for. When it came, he realised it was only one sense among many, and he was far better using the special skills he had learned as a blind person to help him to continue to negotiate this strange world that ‘crammed so close to my eyeballs.’