“Are you sure you don’t notice anything unusual about my face?” I asked her again.

It was Saturday afternoon. A gorgeous sunny day at a winery somewhere among the vineyards of Napa County. We’d been chatting about ten minutes when it struck me that this was the first time I’d ever met and had a conversation with someone who didn’t do that awkward double-take, nervously looking away from my face and back again, trying to figure out what was going on with me and which eye to look into.

I’d seen that response all my life. Having been born minus one optic nerve, my left eye generally just floated around. That plus the thick lenses I wore for the severe myopia in my “good” eye meant I was teased regularly in school.

Molly Nov 1964I remember standing against the gym wall with the two learning-disabled kids in my class, feeling humiliated that the team captains couldn’t decide which among the three of us to choose next.

You develop a thick skin. You come to understand that what a person looks like on the surface may not tell an accurate story about their capabilities and who they are.

I remember transferring to a new high school my sophomore year and, upon arriving my first day, being immediately escorted by a kind lady to the classroom for students with physical and mental limitations.

You learn to speak up for yourself.

“This can’t be my classroom,” I said. “It must be a mistake.”

I remember spending an entire summer trying to learn how to return a tennis ball until I realized, this is just not the sport for me. Along with baseball, basketball, frisbee . . .

You become resilient. You work hard to discover where you can excel.

I remember a woman in an aerobics class, who’d apparently gotten herself all worked up by the time she finally turned around and screamed: “Why do you keep staring at me?!”

You learn to smile at the little ironies of life. Before that moment, I hadn’t even known she was there.

I remember a young woman in college I’d just met who said flat out, “Why don’t you get that eye fixed? It’s really unattractive.”

You develop empathy. It’s been said that facial defects are the most difficult for people to accept, and I’ve noticed that is true for me, too, when I meet people who have them.

“No, I don’t notice anything unusual about your face,” the woman sipping the chardonnay said again. “Now you must tell me why you’re asking!”

Mali post-surgeryWhat was different that day in Napa was that I’d just recovered from surgery to straighten my eye. It wasn’t 100% successful, but enough so that my misbehaving eye wasn’t the first thing someone noticed upon meeting me.

What a freeing feeling that was!

And yet . . .

This “defect” has been such a gift to me. The more I contemplate my blind eye and limited vision, the more I learn from it, the more I see how this “disability” has helped to shape who I am.

I’ve always recognized that my visual limitations encouraged my other senses to develop more fully, including my intuitive senses. Navigating life without them would be much harder than navigating it minus one eye.

Seeing the world without normal depth perception has made me into someone who searches for the depth in everything.

Having precarious vision in my sighted eye, with no spare to count on, has made me incredibly grateful for this truly magical sense. I’ve always been in love with sight. If you know me, you know I never take a sunrise, a rainbow, a baby’s face, or the cross-section of a red pepper for granted. (And I’ll try to make sure you don’t, either!)

Mali todayA while back, I overheard a couple in a restaurant talking about their baby daughter. They had just found out that she was blind in one eye. They sounded scared, really worried about what effects this would have on her life.

I just couldn’t not go over and introduce myself.

“I wouldn’t say that there haven’t been challenges along the way,” I told them, “but facing those challenges has everything to do with the person I am today. Yes, she probably won’t be a natural at softball or tennis, she will need to learn some special tricks to be able to parallel park, but with you helping her to discover all the gifts in her special circumstances, her life is going to be exceptional.”

If you’re dealing with a challenging life situation, what’s to lose by spending a little time contemplating what gifts that situation just might have for you? 

~Mali Apple, coauthor of The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships52 Prescriptions for Happiness, and the upcoming book The Soulmate Lover