The anniversary of "Battle of the Bulge" was only days ago. (Yesterday)Saturday, June 6th was the 65th Anniversary of "D-Day"-- the landing on the beaches of of Normandy. My Grandpa Reed Allender fought in both, and I spoke of this some weeks ago, when we celebrated Memorial Day.
But I think we can celebrate the bravery many individuals display, in their everyday lives. This past Friday, I was fortunate to get to volunteer for Screen Actors' Guild, by working as an official "greeter" to welcome the six dozen or so Executive Directors, and Presidents of all our regional SAG offices. Many were faces you would recognize from various television shows and feature films--character actors and actresses whose names you might not know, but whose deft skills have intrigued you, and made you laugh or cry. Among the many actors I met was one fellow I saw being led by a guide-dog. He did not appear to be visually challenged. This actor, though, is completely blind, having lost his sight gradually, due to a retinal disorder, at age 26. I discovered these details when I decided to approach him at our "mixer" held on Friday night, at the cool Max Lager's in downtown Atlanta. I asked him if once he's cast in a show or film, if he had his lines put on audio, and then listened to them, in order to learn them. He said he does not do that. He's deaf in one ear, besides being blind. And then, he proudly displayed the device he uses to "translate" his lines into braille. He "reads" the words, by feel. So, just like the rest of us, he makes that emotional connection to the character he's playing (in discussing his preparation and research for the roles he's played, it's obvious he's a "method" man)and then memorizes the lines.
He had a few darkly humorous stories, too--he explained he knew it was "time to stop driving" when an officer pulled him over, and when asked for his license, the actor handed him his VISA-credit-card. Apparently, he was stopped because he had been, as the officer said, "all over 3-to-4 lanes."
I listened intently as he described plays he's performed in, including his recounting of portraying the character in "Waiting For Godot" who goes blind at the end of that play....but this actor was still a sighted actor at that time.It would be a long time before he would lose his sight.(All us actors know the famous quote:"Every role becomes a part of you." In this case, the quote was suddenly chilling.)
What do WW II heroes, and an actor losing his sight,and part of his hearing, but continuing to act, have in common? In both cases, there were great odds against success. Most believed the Allies would be defeated, too.
There are many who would wonder how an actor afflicted with blindness, could survive in a business known for superficiality, for labeling people, putting them in categories, and even predicting defeat for those who don't meet stringent, sometimes ridiculous guidelines.
He survived(and indeed, has thrived!) because he does not allow his "conditions" to limit him. When I asked him if he uses the word "challenged" to describe his blindness, instead of "handicap", or "limitation", he said:
"It's just inconvenient--I think of it only as an inconvenience."
I kept thinking about how often I am not pleased with something about myself(usually something fairly superficial, like my hair!).I kept thinking about all the times I haven't auditioned for a show, because I lacked confidence--even when others encouraged me to try-out. I kept thinking how this is a person who inspires me to do more, to do better--not because he's blind, and partially-deaf, but because it does not matter to him, that he's blind, and partially-deaf.
This actor has gone against the odds of winning, braved the stage and screen, and continues to act today(he's probably close to 60 years old now). He confided that he loves writing, too.
So here's to heroes. The ones who fought in WW II, and the heroes who set examples, who break barriers, who feel no boundaries.