Hugues de Montalembert is a painter and photographer who was blinded in an attack in New York City in 1978. The specialists at Lighthouse International played a pivotal role in giving him the therapy and rehabilitation he needed to live independently and productively. Since then he has traveled and written extensively, his story was the basis for the award winning HBO film "Black Sun" and his new book "Invisible" has just been released.
Hour after hour, week after week, month after month, tap tap tap, the noise of the cane in the corridors of the Lighthouse, on the sidewalk of 59th Street, at the intersection with Lexington Avenue, along Park Avenue. Tap tap tap, the infernal noise of the cane, yet full of hope. Sarah, the mobility counselor of the Lighthouse, is teaching me to walk by myself.
This morning Sarah corrects the arc drawn by my cane. Her voice sounds flat. "You are tired," I say to her. She protests but finally admits, "I’ve done this for five years. The hardest part is that there is no feedback. Practically no clients even say thank you. It is very hard."
Do blind people take the dedication put at their service for granted? Do I? Does the fact of being blind give you any obligation from society?
In those corridors of the Lighthouse I heard many complaints and little gratefulness. I am very grateful to Sarah, to all the counselors of the Lighthouse. I owe them everything I wrote about in my book, Invisible. I owe them for having been able to go on with my life.
Every morning when I would pass the doors of the Lighthouse, the doors of hope, I would hear the voice of the receptionist would say, "Good morning, Gorgeous," and I would smile back to her.
What immediately struck me was the fact that in the Lighthouse there was no pity, no emotional blah blah, the very existence of the Lighthouse was in itself an act of compassion.
In a very basic, American way the Lighthouse was pragmatic. I was told very honestly what I could hope to accomplish and what I could not. All the tools, the skills to go back to life, were offered to me, but in the end it was up to me to grab hold of them or not. My freedom and my dignity were in my own hands.
It is up to you, one morning, to walk back home by yourself. To be independent.
The Lighthouse is like a wise wife, she helps you to give birth to that new self that you have become. Day after day I progress, day after day I regress, I am high on hope, I am deep in despair, I play truant, I run back to the Lighthouse, to my lessons. I learn to cook, to sew a button, to play piano, to type, to read braille, and above all to walk by myself.
Eighteen months after that first morning I entered the Lighthouse, disoriented, afraid, slow, and holding tight onto the arm of someone, I discretely went to Kennedy Airport and boarded a plane bound for Java, alone. The adventure of life, of the only life I have, could go on thanks to the Lighthouse.
From Java, my trip took me to islands in the sea of Sulawesi, to the Himalayas, to Greenland, to China. I wrote books to give testimony to what I was given at the Lighthouse, to thank Sarah and all the counselors who helped me to be free.
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