[nfbwatlk] [Living History]Behold Beauty

Lauren Merryfield lauren1 at catliness.com
Tue Nov 20 04:24:14 UTC 2012

How old are the kids now and what grades are they in?  Wow!  Time flies.

advice from my cats: "meow when you feel like it."
The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be
understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.
-- Ralph Nichols
Visit us at catliness.com
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Mike Freeman" <k7uij at panix.com>
To: <nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Monday, November 19, 2012 8:11 PM
Subject: [nfbwatlk] [Living History]Behold Beauty

The Braille Monitor June 2003

Behold Beauty

by Noel Nightingale

Noel Nightingale and Jim Peterson hold their children Cosmo and Leila.

Noel Nightingale and Jim Peterson hold their children Cosmo and Leila.

>From the Editor: Leila Peterson, daughter of NFB of Washington President 
Noel Nightingale and her husband Jim Peterson, will be three years old next 
November. When she was a small infant, her mother, newly sensitized to 
beauty in all its forms by the birth of this remarkable baby, wrote a 
reflection on beauty and what it means to blind people. That little 
meditation found its way into I Can Feel Blue on Monday, the nineteenth in 
the National Federation of the Blind's series of Kernel Books. Since we have 
just celebrated Mother's Day, it seemed appropriate to reprint it now. Here 
it is, beginning with President Maurer's introduction:

Noel Nightingale is President of the National Federation of the Blind of 
Washington State and a member of our National Board of Directors. She is a 
mother, a wife, an attorney. Here she reflects on the nature of beauty and 
the magical moments of life:

My husband Jim Peterson and I recently had the joy of having a baby. Her 
name is Leila Nightingale Peterson. She weighed six pounds, three ounces at 
birth and is now a couple of months old. Objectively speaking, Leila is 
absolutely perfect. She is smart, advanced for her age, and extremely well 
behaved, crying only when it is convenient for us. And she is beautiful.

One of my nurses told me the day we left the hospital, "All the nurses are 
talking about how beautiful your baby is, one of the prettiest they've 
seen." Earlier my nurse asked her colleagues whether they had told me what 
they thought. They said they had not because the mother was blind, and they 
did not want to make her feel bad.

She admonished them that all mothers want to hear that their babies are 
beautiful. I thanked my nurse for telling me and told her that I already 
knew that Leila is lovely but was glad to hear that others thought so too. 
This exchange reminded me that I had once wondered whether beauty would be 
denied to me as a blind person.

I will never forget the only time I saw a butterfly up close. It was when I 
could still see. I was with a friend on the top of a mountain in the Blue 
Mountains of southeastern Washington. We were having a picnic with all of 
the usual picnic supplies. Among other things, we had a carton of orange 
juice with us. At one point the butterfly landed on the orange juice carton.

I slowly moved my head closer and closer to the butterfly. Amazingly enough, 
it did not fly away. My face was just inches away from the butterfly, and I 
could see all the details of its coloring--yellow, white, and black. I could 
see the lines where each color ended and the next began. I could see the 
delicate edges of the wings. It was a magical moment.

At this point in my life, I had recently been diagnosed with a degenerative 
eye disorder and knew I would soon be blind. I savored the moment of seeing 
the intricate detail of this handsome creature. I worried that when I became 
blind I would never again experience the beauty found in such rare and 
privileged moments.

A few years ago I was riding in a car with Jim and noticed that I could not 
tell what color the sky was. I knew that it was blue, but I could not see 
that it was. It looked like it could be either green or purple or blue but 
did not look definitely like any of those colors. I cried because I did not 
want to lose the ability to enjoy those moments when we pause and savor the 
beauty that can be found in our world.

For many years now I have been unable to see color or detail. The visual 
world is a blur of neutral, undefined objects and people. Despite this loss 
I have continued to live a normal life and appreciate beauty. I have 
married, had Leila, work, am a member of several boards of directors of 
nonprofit organizations, and occasionally find time to travel.

Some time after I had become blind, Jim and I took a trip to Europe with our 
tandem bicycle. We rode from London, England, to Madrid, Spain. We spent 
several weeks riding in the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain.

During one stretch we found ourselves low on food and out of water. We had 
underestimated the number of miles between towns and had no hope of finding 
water for an entire day. We were riding in the searing sun of the Spanish 
summer. To make matters worse, we were riding up mountains most of the day. 
I began to cry because I was thirsty and afraid. There were no cars, no 
homes, and no hope that we would be rescued from our thirst and hunger. We 
continued riding, though, because there was nothing else to do.

After hours of riding in this desperate state, we rounded a bend in the road 
and heard water running. A pipe was sticking out of the side of a small 
hill, and water was pouring out of it! Not only that, but there was a sign 
next to it that said, "Potable Water" (in Spanish). It was absolutely 
magical. In the middle of nowhere in those dry mountains was cold, drinkable 
water. We stopped, put our heads under the spout, gulped the water, and 

There are two middle‑aged brothers living in Louisiana who have been blind 
since their birth. When they were born, their parents did not know that 
their blind babies could grow up, have careers, marry, raise families, and 
be active members of their communities. Their parents had such low 
expectations for them that they placed their blind boys, who were only a 
couple of years apart in age, in a room with cement floors and left them 

They fed them, but they did not teach them how to use the bathroom. They did 
not read to them, send them to school, or play with them. The two boys had 
so little intellectual or social stimulation that they became mentally 
retarded. After their parents died, they were sent to a residential 
institution for retarded people. One day the brothers' case worker gave each 
one an orange. It became apparent that they had never before touched or 
eaten an orange. They held their oranges, smelled them, marveled at the 
oranges' coolness, shape, texture, and sweet aroma.

Beauty is experienced by blind people. Both the Louisiana brothers and I as 
blind people have experienced the depths of the world's beauty. While our 
experiences are not visual, they have been as profound as if we were seeing 
the wings of a butterfly or eating an orange for the first time. Although we 
share blindness, the difference between the Louisiana brothers' experience 
with blindness and my experience fifty years later is marked. I have had a 
range of opportunities available to me that was denied to the brothers.

What happened between the time the Louisiana brothers were children and the 
time when I became blind? The National Federation of the Blind has worked to 
let people know that blindness does not prevent people from living normal 

Were the brothers born today, members of the National Federation of the 
Blind could have told the brothers' parents the truth: blindness need not be 
a tragedy if blind people are given proper training in the use of a long 
white cane, taught to read Braille, allowed to use special computer 
equipment, and develop other skills. Not only does blindness not have to be 
a tragedy, but we can enjoy even those fleeting, magical moments that make 
life the wonderful gift that it is.


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