S1: Episode 38 - John Wimmer

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

Narrator:  Welcome to My Heart is Not Blind. Narrative histories about blindness and perception. A traveling exhibition and book published by Trinity University Press, supported by Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, edited and hosted by Michael Nye. Stories are often found, resting along the edges of surprise and revelation. Every person, every place is a map to somewhere else. Episode 38, John Wimmer.

John:  I grew up in the Rogue Valley in Oregon, uh, named after the Rogue river. It’s interesting. My mother was, uh, hippie, for lack of a better term, natural rustic. I think I have to throw in unstructured. I remember a lot of naked hippies swimming in beautiful swimming holes, and it seemed pretty natural and normal to me. I, I certainly have some memories of vision being free in the woods, pursuing my curiosity. And I was, from my perspective, a long way from home. Yeah, my curiosity was stronger than my feeling of fear. And I looked at this green, beautiful field with poppy’s and brilliant orange. You know what, I had a sense of awe because it was beautiful and it was moving.

It was very gradual. Whatever it is that I have. I was born with a gene and, uh, they figured out that I couldn’t read, uh, print. You know, there wasn’t a whole lot of communication that, uh, that I got really. So the things that I do remember is, you know, no central vision and progressive. I signed up to play Little league. I think it might have been sixth grade. You know, I at least wanted to try. And, uh, my stepfather, he went up there and sat down and told everybody that I’m blind and I can’t play baseball. And, you know, told my story for me. And he made me stand up on the porch and, uh, threw wet tennis balls at me to just enrage as hard as he could. He says, catch this ball. I don’t know what he was trying to teach me. And, uh, he said, what you gonna do on the team? And here comes old bumbling John. He was just being, he was being as cruel as he could possibly be. You know, I had all kinds of people trying to break my spirit when I was younger. Ultimately, uh, it was ineffective.

Uhh blindness is not a absence of stimuli. At least for me. It’s not, it’s not blackness, it’s not darkness. One thing that I found very frustrating growing up was the assumption of incompetence. People just assume that, you know, if you just get that episodically, I suppose it can be frustrating, but it can be, uh, excruciatingly. So if you get it everywhere you go, in many ways it’s incumbent upon all of us to play the hand that we’re dealt and to play it to the best of our ability. I do believe in the end, the world still won’t come to you. You gotta get out there. There’s a quote that I like from a Greek author, uh, Thucydides. And the quote is, hope leads men to venture. Hope is a motivating thing. Hope inspires. It’s not just a coping mechanism for adversity. You know, some people can lament the lack of fairness and really sell their quality of life. Cuz you know, when the time’s over, it’s just gone. And I just believe that powerfully.

I love history. I absolutely love history. I’m intellectually curious. I like knowing the answers. I even like seeking the answers. I climb mountains. I’ve climbed Mount Hood. I’ve climbed, uh, the highest mountain in Colorado. Well, I get around the world through crowds with my guide dog, Rasha. It was very difficult to sort of interact with people in a way that’s meaningful. But I got a dog and oh my goodness, what a radical life change. Without Rasha, I’m that jackass that will bump into you and not make eye contact. But with Rasha, it really is almost like a magical thing. It’s just incredible.

When it comes to sounds. I am a sucker for crows. They speak to me in beautiful places. The sounds are part of the beauty. I love the sound of wind through the high country. It’s almost a symphony. And there’s, there’s subtleties. You know, some are more distant, some are closer, louder. I can smell the forest and it’s powerful. Yeah, my father, I didn’t really get to know him until I was in my late twenties. Much of his history, it doesn’t read well. If I think he spent, uh, between 18 and 58, I think he spent 35 of those years in prison. I knew a kind of gentle man, you know, uh, for some, I’m sure he was seen as a dangerous man. But, uh, I was in a very rural place in northern California, and he broke down in front of this man’s house. And this, uh, man looked at my father and goes, this is your boy. He claims you. And my father just smiled. And I could hear the smile on his voice. He says, I don’t know, man, but I sure claim him. It made me feel good. You know, throughout most of my life, uh, people use my father against me. I don’t think a person necessarily is a sum of their fouls or their mistakes, but, you know, we all sort of make our own choices and freedom as consequences.

[Outro Music]

Host:  I was willing to try anything, says John. And he has, he’s traveled the world with his guide dog Rasha, climbed mountains, studied psychology, and the Greek classics. He quotes Zen Buddhism. There is this idea, empty your cup. How can you learn anything if your cup is already full? You have to be prepared to receive. He reads Ernest Hemingway and remembers a line that he carries with him everywhere. “Life breaks everyone. And afterwards, many are strong at their broken places.” John says, this quote speaks of adversity. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in a gated community or some war torn part of the world. All of us are going to suffer at some point. How we cope with suffering says a lot about our character. He speaks without embellishment. His insights are vivid, forgiving. He refuses to surrender to the public’s perception about blindness. He’s an explorer embracing adventure, and he is full of wonder.

Join us next week, two new episodes will be released. Please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can also go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast. for portraits and transcripts, thank you for listening.