Happy February 20th, everyone! For the past twelve years, I celebrate on this day. I have dubbed it a holiday of sorts. A day of embracing the fullest expression of who I am.
See, February 20th was a monumental day in my growth as a young person. There is a difference between knowing something and accepting it. When you accept something, it resonates deep within your core. On February 20th, 2006, I went from being a timid teenager who knew I had “trouble seeing,” to a young woman who accepted that she, in fact, lives with a vision impairment. On this day, I learned that I had to accept my vision impairment in order to grow as a person as well as a young actor.
***cut to 2/20/2006***
Today was the greatest day! My voice teacher, Mrs. Amy, was coming over to MY HOUSE to work with me on the voice part of my song and dance routine for a *high stakes* talent competition. I LOVED Mrs. Amy, and I couldn’t wait for her to see me perform in my lime green and hot pink bedroom complete with a piece of plywood I called my “stage.”
After running and tweaking my rendition of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” a few times, Amy motioned for me to sit and take a breather. Then, came the conversation. Now, of course, she didn’t cut straight to the chase. After some notes and encouragement, came the conversation I hold dear to this day.
“I know about your vision issue, and you know about it. And it’s time for us to start talking about it in regards to your journey as a singer and actor.” Amy continued, and I tried to act like I wasn’t affected by swallowing back the tears trying to make their way out. After all, what seventh grader wants to feel different? “I know you struggle to see. I get that and I applaud you for the way you go after anything you want. But now, we have to create a game plan. For example, we can work on focus exercises for when you go into an audition and have to pick a point to use as your scene partner. We can work on how to talk to dance teachers so you never have to learn in the back row. We can work on how to ask the people at the audition if they can make your script larger print.” I nodded and wiped away the tears that managed to blink out.
See, I grew up in the South where most folks would rather tiptoe around issues instead of talk about them. Amy had worked with me for a few years by this point, and she knew I had to embrace this piece of me completely in order to be successful. She also knew that no one else was talking to me like this, and I couldn’t stay in my safe little bubble forever! Directors were bringing it up and I was facing challenges that I didn’t know how to respond to quite yet...I didn’t have the tools. This day gave me a game plan. This day didn’t solely highlight that I had the eye issue....instead, it opened a door of communication. Amy continued to tell me, “Every single person in every field has advantages and disadvantages. Your eyesight is only a disadvantage if you allow it to be. It is actually something to celebrate.”
CELEBRATE? Hmmm...that was a new one for me. But I loved Amy as a second mom, and I listened and waited for her next steps. I did my routine again, and we worked on finding a point of eye-focus. I shed a few tears through the routine (and tap break), but I understood what was happening. And that week after leaving my house-rehearsal, Amy followed up EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. She emailed me to check in, and most importantly, she encouraged me to start a journal. She knew this new territory came with a LOT of new feelings. And I have kept a journal every day since February 20th, 2008.
Amy still encourages and teaches me today, and I am so happy to share this day with her. Does February 20th mean there is no struggle? Absolutely not. This past month has been very challenging with vision and sight-related issues. Do I crack too many half-blind girl jokes? Maybe. Do I get frustrated and think things are unfair sometimes? Sure. But that is OK. I am constantly learning how to navigate this world as an individual with low vision, and I will continue to learn and grow.
Happy February 20th y’all. Celebrate ALL OF YOU.