Something has astonished me for a long time. It is that blind people never speak about the things they see. At least I never hear them talk about them to those who see with their physical eyes.
Rather often, however, when blind people are together, suddenly they tell each other what they perceive. Then why do they ordinarily keep quiet about this?
I think that basically the reason is rather simple. They keep quiet because of society. To live in society one must at any cost resemble everyone else. Society demands it.
The Opposite of Blindness
In order to adapt to the world of the seeing, blind people are obliged to declare themselves unable to see — and, believe me, I know what I’m talking about, for that has happened to me even when I knew very well that it didn’t correspond to reality and was not true.
Therefore, excuse me for not saying to you a single time that I am blind. I will not speak to you about blindness, but about its opposite.
To begin with, I have a very strong memory: something which stays alive for me as an experience every minute, but which presents itself to me, when I think about it, as a memory. It is what happened to me when I became blind at the age of eight.
I believed — oh, I believed, and with a great dizziness, as you may well imagine, despite my young age — that from the moment I lost my eyes, I would from then on never see again. And then that was not true. What a surprise!
I still haven’t forgotten it. I verified immediately and in a concrete way that I had not lost anything, or rather that what I had lost was of a practical order, and only of that order.
Oh, indeed, I could no longer walk around freely; I had to be accompanied. I was sometimes obliged to ask others for help — those who saw with their eyes, who were passing around me. But the others responded to me. Usually they responded very well. I learned very quickly that this was not very serious. No, truly, I had lost nothing at all.
What Does This Mean?
It does not mean that the situation must be explained in a moral manner or by poetic images — I will adamantly insist on that. It means uniquely positive, concrete, and elementary things.
I had rediscovered inside myself everything which others described as being outside of us: on the exterior. And I verified for myself that they were wrong.
They said, “But he can no longer see the light,” or even, “If he says that he sees it, he is actually imagining it or remembering it.”
And people spoke to me of the marvelous memories I must have of the time when I could see. Or of the faculty that I possessed, as they put it, to an extraordinary degree: imagination. But, for my part, I was obstinately resolved not to believe them.
I knew very well that I was not “imagining things.” I knew that I was perceiving, that I was sensing.
Everything Was Inside Me
Inside me was everything I had believed was outside. There was, in particular, the sun, light, and all colors. There were even the shapes of objects and the distances between objects. Everything was there, and movement as well.
I verified that sometimes the shapes I perceived inside myself were not exactly like those which others described to me. There were slight differences, little divergences.
For example, a friend who had eyes told me that a wall at the side of the road was still quite a ways away from us, that it was about ten meters distant. Rather strangely, I felt it much closer.
And then, several years later, I understood where the difference came from: The wall was very large and very tall, much taller than the other walls in the neighborhood. So nothing had really changed for me. My blindness did not prevent the wall from being a wall. It didn’t change its being strong, solid, and immobile along the side of the road.
This is how things went for me right from the beginning, and it was and still is amazing to me.
Entering a World of Enchantment
From the moment I became blind, I did not enter a world of privations supported by courage, to “see” heroically what others described to me. Not at all.
I entered a world of enchantment, but an enchantment which supported my life, which nourished me, because it was real. It was not an imaginary fairy-tale enchantment, and I sensed that clearly.
And now, at the interior of this positive enchantment, I found a small understanding which was immediately a very great prize for me which I treasure to this day: the nature of light.
I knew very well that most of those who see with their eyes — I hardly dare call them “the seeing,” for there would be an unpleasant ambiguity to that — usually say that light comes to them from the outside, that they catch it like a ball which is thrown to them.
I know very well that is not true. I know the nature of light is not to be outside of us, but, on the contrary, within us.
Exactly what is this nature of light? I could not tell you. I don’t know. I only know how it really manifests itself. It is an element that we carry inside us and which can grow there with as much abundance, variety, and intensity as it can outside of us. Maybe even more intensely, and in a more stable, better balanced way, inside rather than outside.
The Astonishing Power of Lighting Yourself
There was this phenomenon that surprised me: I could choose when the light came or went. Yes, I could make it appear or disappear. I had that astonishing power: I could light myself.
You heard right: “light myself.” That is to say, I could create a light inside me so alive, so large, and so near that my eyes — oh, it was very strange — my physical eyes, or what remained of them, vibrated, almost to the point of hurting, just as yours would hurt if you suddenly fixed them on the sun’s ray too attentively.
I could in the same way extinguish all, or almost all, light impressions, or at least reduce them, soften them into a monotonous gray, a sort of obscurity, whether pleasant or disturbing. In any case, for me the variations of light no longer depended on external phenomena — do I need to repeat that medically I was one hundred percent blind? — but on my own decisions.
Practical Observations I'd Like To Share
Being blind, I have made a certain number of practical observations about things which I’d like to share with you.
Sadness Obscures Things
Suppose I am sad. Or embarrassed. I have things which upset me. I am anxious. Armies of small pains race inside my head.
What happens then?
Suddenly I see almost nothing.
When I am sad, walking inside my house, I bump my forehead; I hurt my hand on a half-open door. And I no longer even have a sense of where I am.
This reminds me that I am blind, but blind in a way I don’t like. That is to say, in a way which makes me different from others. Also I understand quickly that in order to no longer be blind in the way I detest, all that I have to do is simply no longer be sad.
What a beautiful Godsend!
It is true that today I think in this clear and peremptory way. At the age of ten, I undoubtedly didn’t tell myself things exactly this way.
I know in every case when I am in high spirits, when I am confident, when I observe within myself an air of joy, of life, of peaceful curiosity in regard to things, there are no longer any accidents. I no longer smash my face against objects. I have an impression of knowing them wonderfully well, sometimes of measuring them to the exact centimeter.
Impatience Moves Objects
There is also what I have discovered when I was impatient. You see this is no longer exactly sadness, though impatience is in many regards a form of sadness. In a word, when I was impatient, I wanted everything to go faster. I wanted to eat quickly. And during this time when I was impatient, all the objects immediately started to turn against me like fretful children. They changed their positions. I could no longer trust them. There was a glass which was on the table, and which I had seen just a moment ago at the tip of my napkin. It disappeared a moment later. It was behind a bottle, and of course in trying to reach for it, I turned over the bottle.
Impatience moves objects in exactly the same way that sadness puts them in shadows, almost eclipses them, surrounds them by some sort of smoke or fog.
Joy Clarifies Everything
How many times have I found myself quite simply walking along. And suddenly I receive one of these gusts of contentment, of, so to say, “joy” or “well-being,” which is a marvelous feeling because one has no idea where it comes from. There is no known reason. It is as if life were tapping, like rain on a window-pane. One is content.
I was content on the sidewalk. Paris became visible to me. I saw Paris. I knew how tall the houses were. I distinguished how wide the streets were. I perceived the automobiles coming and going. And people who approached me had a smell, a history, even before they spoke or I spoke to them.
In short, for a brief second, I was all-knowing. I had eyes all around my head, and then, truly, I was no longer blind. It was actually even more than that, in a certain regard.
And it was all because I was content.
"I even dare believe that interior joy has a secret power to make luck more favorable....
"I have often noticed that the things I have done with a happy heart, and with no inner repugnance, have a habit of succeeding happily, even during games of chance, where it is only fortune which rules....
"It is useful to have a strong conviction that the things which you undertake without repugnance, and with the freedom which ordinarily accompanies joy, will not fail to succeed well.
"Your Highness will allow me, if she pleases, to finish this letter as I began it, and to wish her primarily the satisfaction of the spirit and of joy, as not only as the fruits that one looks for above all others, but also as a means to augment the grace one has for acquiring them."
— René Descartes, Letter to Princess Elisabeth
©2016 by Jacques Lusseyran.
Reprinted with permission from New World Library.
About the Author
Jacques Lusseyran (1924–1971) is the author of And There Was Light. He was blinded at age seven, formed a French Resistance group at age seventeen, and endured fifteen months at Buchenwald. After World War II, he was a professor in the United States at Case Western Reserve University. He died in a car accident with his wife in 1971.