Courtesy of ‘Believing Is Seeing‘ Guest Blogger and American Idol Finalist Scott MacIntyre
“You’re going to be living by yourself? In London?”
I was always surprised when people asked me that. But I understood. To many people, the thought of living in a foreign country was scary enough, and to them, the idea of a blind person living there by himself was unfathomable. Because of my blindness, the bombings, and of course my kidney failure, they felt I was taking too many risks. They meant well, but it was hard not to be hurt by their reaction. It felt like they didn’t believe in me.
What they didn’t always understand was that, as a person who is blind, you’re always chasing a dream. Often the dream is something others would consider ordinary — like being able to walk across the street or purchase something from a drugstore. But I also had extraordinary dreams — like sharing my music with the world — and I knew the process of making big dreams happen was the same process I used to make ordinary things happen.
Cross the street, live in London, go on tour — I couldn’t pursue one while running in fear from the others.
After helping me move in, my family had gone to a nearby hotel. Alone in my room at Goodenough College, I could faintly hear the sounds of London through my open window. The sounds of the city were a reminder that my dreams were coming true. From inside the college, I heard the unfamiliar noises of people in the hall, doors opening and closing and creaky floors. The noises didn’t bother me, rather, the cacophony seemed like a musical accompaniment to my dreams.
I slept well and the next morning woke with a sense of expectation. I jumped out of bed and threw on my clothes. I was full of energy and couldn’t wait to get started. But I couldn’t just take off and run down the streets of London like I used to run down the beach in California. First I had to get some help.
The plan was to meet my family at 9:00 in the reception area of the college. But I was so energized I couldn’t wait. Using my cane to guide me, I took the elevator down from the third story and exited on the main floor where I walked past the security desk and out the large doors onto Mecklenburg Square. Because the square was sheltered from the busy streets nearby I didn’t hear cars or pedestrians — only birds and insects as they greeted the new morning. Somewhere a church bell, or a bell from the college, chimed nine o’clock and right on schedule I heard the voices of my family as they turned the corner.
Using my class and lesson schedule as a guide, Mom and Dad helped me to get oriented on each campus I would need to visit as well as how to make my way between them. It was great having my parents as my guides because they would point out helpful things that an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor wouldn’t know, such as the locations of my favorite kinds of restaurants. But we also needed to use the services of a professional O&M instructor who was familiar with some of the distinctive features of London.
The Marshall program recommended a woman named Esther as my O&M instructor. Esther spent a lot of time teaching me how to navigate the five subway stations I’d use the most. Tube stations posed unique challenges. It was always difficult for me to walk through a crowded room that didn’t have square walls or angles to track with my cane. When that room was the size of a tube station, it was nearly impossible. Some of the tube stops had odd shaped walls, and when the room got crowded, I could easily become disoriented. Esther taught me how to enter a station and listen for the sounds of other people going in and out of the turnstiles. Once I identified the sound of the turnstiles, I could move toward the entrance.
Once I had several routes completely memorized, I could build upon what I already knew. Within the first few weeks of school, I became comfortable going to new stations on my own. I could go where I needed and complete any necessary transactions. I had learned the ins and outs of my new city, how the tube system worked, and the layout of the campuses and neighborhoods where I’d spend most of my time. Although I made lots of friends, I never had to ask one of them to take me somewhere. If I needed to go, I did it by myself.
Before my parents left London, there was one more important thing to do — find a doctor so I could have regular testing. We found a hospital with lab services where I could get that done, and we set up an appointment to schedule my testing visits.
The hospital was a study in contrasts. The halls were a crisp white, and the bright tile floor gleamed as though lit from beneath. The place seemed so shiny and freshly cleaned that it should have been a happy place. But I knew there was pain and suffering hidden behind each patient’s door. It was a metaphor for my own life. I was so happy and excited to think of the endless possibility London held for me on the outside, but somewhere inside of me darkness still loomed in my kidneys.
When one of the nurses found out I was a Marshall scholar and a musician, she asked a lot of questions. As we finished the appointment and she led us to the door, she said, “I hope it doesn’t happen, but if you have to go on dialysis, or you need anything else major done, don’t do it here in London. Go back to the United States and have it done there.”
It was a scary thought. And advice I prayed I would never have to heed.
Scott’s new autobiography, By Faith, Not By Sight, is available wherever fine books are sold. For special book launch offers and to find out how you can have Scott play a free private concert for you, visit http://macintyrebook.com/.
As the first blind finalist on “American Idol,” Scott MacIntyre was called “an inspiration to the entire world through your commitment, through your talent” by former judge Paula Abdul. Visually impaired since birth, he started playing piano by ear at age three, began classical lessons at six and subsequently learned to play organ, guitar, bass and drums. When the family moved to Toronto for several years, he studied music at the Royal Conservatory of Music before relocating to Arizona, where, at age fourteen, the home-schooled MacIntyre was admitted into Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College and Herberger College of Fine Arts. In 2005, he received the coveted Marshall and UK Fulbright scholarships and was ranked by USA Today as one of the top 20 undergraduate seniors in the nation. He graduated from ASU Summa Cum Laude at the age of nineteen, going on to receive a masters degree in England at Royal Holloway, University of London and the Royal College of Music. During his time overseas, MacIntyre was invited back to the U.S. to be received at the Whitehouse by First Lady Laura Bush as one of three national RFB&D (Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic) scholarship winners. He was accepted to both Oxford and Cambridge Universities for further graduate study in the UK.