Just two days after my summer break began, I went off to Catalina Island with a Christian fellowship I am part of at UCLA. About 150 of us and two other chapters in Southern California gathered at our campsite called Campus by the Sea, for a week long Bible study and fun. It was certainly an experience filled with spiritual growth and laughter for me. At the same time, it was an opportunity to reflect on how I fit in as a blind person among a large group of sighted people.
As much as I dislike to admit this, I noticed how big of a role sight plays in lives of those who are sighted throughout the week. For instance, one of the first things we did was dance competition between the three chapters that were there. Another big activity throughout the week was playing sports such as basketball, volleyball, and Frisbee during short time of breaks between Bible study sessions and a 3 hours long free time in the middle of the day. Even during the talent show in which most of performances were based on words and music, there were several times I could not laugh or genuinely applaud along with the crowd because of inherently visual nature of things like choreography and nonverbal acting.
I have been blind since birth, so such experiences were not foreign at all. However, throughout the week, there were handful of times I felt alone, then couldn’t help but wish I could play volleyball with my friends, or at least watch and cheer like my sighted friends when someone was showing off his/her dance moves or basketball skills. I am not sure what made me feel this way more greatly than usual, but it certainly caused me to question and think more about where my place is as a blind person living in the “sighted world.”
I sat by the beach and under the trees alone a few times during the week thinking about this. I also intentionally tried to be comfortable being myself around my friends. Thankfully, I was able to really come to peace with this toward the end of my stay at Campus by the Sea.
It is difficult to go through many moments of feeling more lonely and more different from my sighted peers than I want to admit. However, this journey of finding my place and finding who I am in itself is a blessing. For instance, I could not join in the competitive basketball tournament that took place one afternoon, but I could use that time to sit by the ocean, appreciating the relaxing atmosphere, and meet someone who was like-minded with me - in a sense that she also chose calm beach instead of basketball court where most of the crowd was. These were moments of simple but meaningful joy.
To be completely honest, I don’t think I have found a clear answer on where I fit in when I am surrounded by culture dominated by visual elements. But through this aspect of my experience at Catalina Island, I was reminded that it is okay to feel lonely sometimes. Just make sure to have your heart open; there may be simple joy at unexpected moments.