I read through John Hull’s magnificent reflection on his life of blindness fairly quickly. I do that — race through a book. Then, if the book is meaningful enough, I go back. This second time through Touching the Rock is more of a meditation. There’s something on almost every page to which I say, “Imagine that?”
In Chapter 5, Hull is talking about the wind and the sea. Sighted people locate ourselves by sight — we simply turn our heads around, or scan with our eyes, to see where we are. For a blind person, the physical world is invisible unless it makes a sound. One of the very welcome happenings for a blind person is falling rain. Rain sounds different as it falls on different things. In rain, the immediate world is revealed to a blind person all at once, and through a multitude of sounds. Wind does a similar thing. Here is Hull talking about wind:
“Blind people are accustomed to not knowing where things come from, where they are going to. Things rush past: one is in the midst of a melee of action, one does not expect to see origins and destinations.” [p. 95]
But in the wind, the blind person knows. He can simply turn to face the wind, and know that it is coming from “there”.
I was moved to wonder how I, as a sighted person, know where things come from. The knowledge is visual, of course. From my glass wall of windows I can see cargo ships. If they are facing toward the port, they are coming from afar. If they are facing toward the channel, they are coming from port, having delivered a load, and they are going back — perhaps with new containers bound for Asia.
The glass wall is thick. I can hear sounds of traffic, muted, but not ships. John Hull wouldn’t even know the cargo ships are there.