At the Gateway to Blindness

31 Mar 2014

Being Blind: BENEFIT #1 - You Are the Rose among the Thorns

Maribel with Roses
“But he who dares not grasp the thorn, should never crave the rose.”

Anne Brontë

 Have you noticed how life has a habit of cultivating nasty surprises when you least expect them?

One day, you are happily going about your own business, living a normal life when suddenly, your eyes begin to blur: something is not quite right. You think maybe a visit to the optometrist will fix it, a new pair of glasses perhaps – next thing, you are sitting in a specialist’s office who bears the shocking news – you are going blind.

So here you are, caught in the prickly truth – your life is about to change.

How can you possibly let go of living without sight, to accept the terrifying prospect of having no vision at all?

It would seem unthinkable for most of us but I can offer some good news.

There IS a better way to take hold of this thing they call blindness.

When we choose to look for the symbolic rose among the thorns, life takes on a new perspective.

Rose Wisdom

Believe it or not, it was a yellow rose bush  that recently brought my attention to this valuable life lesson.Rose Wisdom

I was pruning her thorny branches carefully when a huge prickle grabbed my bare arm and hooked deeply into my skin.

Naturally I yelled out, “Let go, you rotten thing. Let GO!”

Then something very strange happened.

With my arm still trapped by the grip of the thorn, the rose bush aligned her wisdom to my thoughts and said, “That’s right. Consider this lesson: you have to let go. You can choose to see the thorn or the yellow rose at the top of my stem. Life is like this.”

Releasing her grip on my skin, more wisdom flowed, “Have you considered how much energy this rose bush has to produce in order to open the tight bud into a flowering bloom for you to admire?”

She released her hold on my bare skin and I considered her message.

When we are gripped by a life-challenge, it is fear that holds us so tightly, we don’t know how to release the pain. We feel afraid, caught up with so many emotions, and, having landed among a patch of brambles so thick, we feel deeply wounded.

So what can you do?

Grasp a brand new attitude!

Let go of fear and put your energy into transforming the thorn of disappointment into a marvellous bloom. Acceptance is key.

“Acceptance is not submission; it is acknowledgement of the facts of a situation,

then deciding what you're going to do about it.”  Kathleen Casey Theisen

Second Hand Rose

When my children were young, it was often at their bubbly birthday parties where the only rose I saw was an inferior one. I desired so much to provide a beautiful day for them, that I became entangled by feelings of vulnerability and limitation.

My competence as a visually-impaired mother was truly challenged. What would seem like a simple visual task to any other sighted host was terribly difficult.

The cake I had so lovingly prepared leaned as magnificently as the tower of Pisa, which only served to cut me up with deep feelings of inadequacy. Inferiority reared her ugly head and congratulated me on being as hopeless as a second-hand Rose.

The children were blissfully unaware of the bitterness trapped in my thoughts. Beneath my smile, I feared not being able to perform as other ‘normal’ mothers I  knew. But my children’s squeals of laughter and exuberance during party preparations was the tonic I needed to encourage me to keep baking the party food.

At Play

I did my best and involved the children to help when they could. But second-hand Rose always managed to push her way into my thoughts with devastating effect at the ironically happy moment of sharing presents.

I heard squeals of delight from the little people and had no idea what they were all looking at.

As laughter ran from one happy child to the next, feelings of exclusion deepened: I was the only person in the room not able to see. I had to mask my feelings of pain of isolation within my clan.

“Oh wow, that’s beautiful. Look at that. Great. Just what I wanted. Cool.”

The chorus of delight continued with the next present in rapid succession, leaving little blind me to ask, “What is it? Can you show me?”

It was hard not to feel a measure of inequality when second-hand Rose insisted on injecting hurtful thoughts into my motherly pride.

 At some point during the festivities, one of my children or a friend glimpsed sad little Rose sitting on the edge of the circle and would kindly fill in the details and describe the present under admiration.

The truth hurt: I was completely dependent on the sensitivity of others to include me in the visual celebration.

The beauty in losing sight

It took me many years to stop listening to second-hand Rose. Quite frankly, her mantra of despair stank. I was forced to scent my inner thoughts with a kinder perfume.

As acceptance of my life became easier to embrace, it was as if I had pruned away the nasty thorns intent on hurting my perceptions of life.

I eventually learned that, if I could see past the pain and disappointment my own thoughts created, I was more likely to gain a sense of empowerment by choosing to see differently.

With the non-judgmental support of my loved ones, I was able to surrender my grasp on the thorns and began to recognise the bud of my true potential – as mother, wife and friend.

It’s true - We can’t escape pain in our lives altogether but knowing we can limit our own  suffering by being in control of our attitude to any given situation is like doing daily positive pruning!

So ... When the bud of a rose first appears, rejoice.

 You have chosen to lift your gaze to the potential in your own life.

Please leave a comment about the personal garden of thought you like to cultivate in your own life.

©Maribel Steel 2014

7 Mar 2014

The Scent of Friendship Lingers on International Women’s Day

I don’t feel very much like Pooh today," said Pooh.

"There there," said Piglet. "I’ll bring you tea and honey

until you do.
” A.A. Milne

True friendship grows out of a genuine desire to sweeten the life of your friend when they have a bitter pill to swallow. When sight began to fade during my teen years, I found such a true friend at school. In honour of the female spirit on International Women’s Day (8th March), I will never forget the sweet fragrance of one particular friendship...

It was easier to ignore the dimming of objects, the blurring of words, the discomfort of puberty as sneaky changes were taking place right before my eyes. I was reluctant to say anything to the girls at school for fear that my new glasses would attract ‘‘special’ attention – or worse, be ridiculed and seen as the teacher’s pet.

A new school year dawned and I had not yet found a group of friends to confide in. The home teacher noticed my squinting tendency while I peered hopelessly at the blackboard and moved me from the back of the room to sit right in the middle of the front row. “Did you bring your glasses to school today?”

I cringed deeper into the chair. At thirteen, my life was being turned upside down – all due to a riotous collision of hormones.

One Italian-Australian girl sitting next to me in the front row didn’t seem to mind my ever-growing peculiarities. Antoinette was a kind and studious girl, who ignored the antics of the immature drama queens in our class and achieved high standards in her school work.

On one day, in the second floor classroom, rowdy girls snickered.

“What are you doing?” asked Antoinette, amused as I fumbled around my bag under the desk.

“Be quiet,” I snapped.

Show me!” she said.

I put on the new gold-rimmed frames and pulled a ghastly expression, and then hid my face on the pages of a French textbook as dramatically as if I were before Marie-Antoinette at the court of Versailles.

“Tres magnifique! Those glasses suit you.”

With a playful pinch to her leg, I was relieved my new friend still liked me.

Sitting at the desk beside her, our shoulders nudged together warm and close, so close that her black hair brushed across my cheek, the fragrance of her perfume sweetening our friendship.

Two Peas in a Paranoid Pod


On some days, fuzzy writings at the far edges of the chalk board still eluded my vision, so I turned my failing eyesight to copy Antoinette’s neat handwriting. Watching her craft clear, precise strokes  to form words and sentences, was like watching a magician produce something beautiful from out of a blank space. One minute, an empty page – the next, an army of black ink-soldiers standing with military precision upon faint lines.

She often interrupted the private show by tugging at thin strands of her black hair and whined, “I’m going bald, you know?”

“You are not,” I laughed.

“See?” She held out a long strand of invisible hair, and studied it closely before tossing it away.

“Just stop pulling it out, then,” I teased, and continued to copy her writing.

Two peas in a paranoid-pod – with Antoinette critical of her lack of hair, and my embarrassment with all the new bodily changes stealing vision – we soon became inseparable confidantes for one another.

A great resource for girls and young women...

The Dugdale Trust for Women & Girls will be launching their new national website Rosie for young women

Rosie Respect

The site will be a space for young women to connect with the best web resources, helping them navigate life's tricky situations. Rosie will have tips, links, and videos all centred around a theme of respect.

the Dugdale Trust for Women & Girls was launched last year by

The Victorian Womens Trust.

Please share in the comments, what true friendship means to you...

© 2014 Maribel Steel

14 Feb 2014

Blind Kitty – Be My Valentine


With Valentine’s Day being celebrated around the world for hopeless romantics like myself, I couldn’t resist peeking back over old computer files in search of a story I could share on Cupid’s day for lovers. Here is one of my rare fiction stories with a poignant message – may love always be close to your own heart..
* * * * *

He’d always said it didn’t bother him she was blind. In fact, he had laughed,
“You’re the perfect partner for me, Kitty-babe.”
“Hmm?” She smiled.
He unravelled a thin yellow ribbon from his shirt pocket, winding it gently around her ring finger. “Yeah. No other woman I’ve been with can walk straight past a jeweller’s window like you do.” Placing his soft lips on Kitty’s fourth finger he added, “Save this one for me, OK?”

Fumbling to unlock the front door, Kitty’s scarf catches on the cactus plant he had bought from some dodgy second-hand shop on the not so fashionable side of Chapel Street. She jabs the key into the lock, ripping the yellow ribbon from her ring finger, and hurls the white cane down the corridor. She slams the door as hard as she can, crying, How dare he!

A crystal vase wobbles on the hall table as Kitty thunders past, knocking over the sagging red flowers he had given her. Shards of glass explode across the tiled floor. She crushes fragments of glass and petals under her black boots, his last words breaking her heart.

Moving around the bedroom, her hands can’t help but stray over every surface in search of anything he may have left behind. It was all going in the bin. Hands sift through empty drawers and cupboards, finding nothing.

Kitty kneels down on the shaggy rug on his side of the bed, burrowing madly underneath the low futon, her hands delighted to have found something of his she can shred to pieces. A pile of magazines, The Financial Review, no doubt.

He liked to scan through the pages as she lay next to him in bed,  curled up and purring: with limbs intertwined and hands moving over each other’s salty-skin. He assured her it was important to keep an eye on rising trends in the stock market.

Kitty launches the magazines into the air one by one, aiming for the rubbish bin, none of them making it to the target, an assortment of papers littering the room. Prick! She curses, gathering them up.

A glossy photo on the front cover makes her take a closer look. Her tear-filled eyes widen, travelling carefully over the black font two inches from her face.

Bold, lush, defiant – PLAYBOY.  What else had she not seen?

A pair of doves nesting in a tree with red blossoms outside the window wake her from her thoughts as they coo, You fool, you fool.

“Shut up.”

But the love birds continue their torment. Heat rises into her face and she hurls his pillow at the window, the smell of his sandalwood cologne making her feel sick for the first time.

In the early days of their relationship, his irresistible scent had comforted her as Kitty lay awake, wondering how a man could truly love a woman who was going blind. She craved to experience intimacy as a whole woman – not a partially-sighted one and it hurt to think  how he would be limited by choosing a woman who couldn’t connect through visual body language.

Kitty wanted to prove to herself that she was more than vision-impaired. She knew how to bounce back when she suffered embarrassment: bumping into street poles, tripping over children, falling into holes, bruising shins and ego. Laughing at misfortune had become a way of life. Kitty had honed her wits to get her out of sticky situations: accidentally walking over wet cement, jumping a queue then ordering without a ticket, knocking items off a shelf, wearing odd-coloured shoes.

He went along with the humorous aspects of Kitty’s blind life - teasing her.

“Pity, babe, you can’t see how good looking I am?” They laughed that there were never any arguments about who had the car for the weekend, and he loved that she never gave him directions when they drove around in his make-believe Porsche.

But the day he announced he was moving interstate and thought it best they go their separate ways was the day he confessed he couldn’t face another divorce – two ex-wives had pulled the financial rug from underneath him. He wasn’t willing to risk a third marriage with any other woman, no matter how much he loved her.

Kitty’s Ivory Lover


In the fading pink evening light, the piano sits in the corner of the living room like a reassuring friend, calling to Kitty, Come. Come and play me. She returns to the only lover that had never betrayed her and Kitty’s mood softens as she moves closer to the iron-framed piano, a tightened brow replaced by a thin-lipped smile.

Fingers slip into the white spaces of the keys, spread elegantly like wings over middle C. With lowered head and eyes closed, memories of him force their way into Kitty’s thoughts, bringing a sharp dragging ache to her chest.

She shifts in the seat, hands diving for the lower register to strike at the keys, thumping out discordant tones while her foot stomps on the pedal. Internal heat pulses through fingers as they jam into black and white spaces of the keyboard. Thoughts and fragments of their conversations jump into her mind as Kitty’s hands randomly twist and turn over the octaves.

The long wooden hammers with their felt claws strike the strings beneath the lid of the piano, pounding as each dampened thud echoes her troubled heart, Why did he have to leave?

Hands quiver, shoulders release, tightened throat prepares for sobbing. Safe in the intimacy of free expression, her heart opens into a space where all she can do is let go of unfulfilled promises.

A torrent of salty tears trace a course down Kitty’s hot cheeks and over trembling hands. Thoughts plunge into the deep recesses seeking shelter from the snagging words, Let go, let go, let go.

The music plays on, dancing through Kitty’s fingers, the improvised melody lifting her heart over the maze of self-doubt. After several hours, she is cradled by the warmth of the pulse, and in the space between letting go and acceptance, Kitty’s heart is captivated by the sound emerging from the piano: deep ecstasy flowing through every part of her being.


The fading chords linger in the room, moonlight peeps through the lace curtains.

She hears the gentle pattern of breathing as long deep breaths escape from her lips. Placing a moist kiss on her open hand, Kitty pats down on the warm keys and gently closes the wooden lid. She edges slowly away from her ivory lover, tears rest like salt crystals drying on her cheeks: and as a smile breaks free, Kitty promises to replace the broken vase in the light of a new day.
The flowers this time, will come from her own garden.

Copyright © 2014 Maribel Steel

29 Jan 2014

Mastering Blindness: Listen to The Radio Australia Interview With Phil Kafcaloudes

Exciting news!

Following is the audio interview where I speak with the charming Phil Kafcaloudes, presenter of the popular morning breakfast show on Radio Australia.

We talk candidly for 15 minutes on ‘ Mastering the daily challenges of living with blindness’and journey back in time to explain how it all began with the diagnosis in my teens.

The following blurb appeared on 28th January, Radio Australia’s home page:

 Melbourne author Maribel Steel shares her positive experience of living with blindness.

“Freelance writer and blogger Maribel Steel began to lose vision in the seventies. She was fifteen.  Strong-willed, she decided then to find other ways of doing things and was determined not to let vision impairment get her down. 
She says becoming blind never stopped her enjoying what life had to offer.

She has travelled, written a recipe book and has become a motivational speaker on the topic of living with blindness and the daily challenges to overcome.

She discusses her experience and many projects with Phil Kafcaloudes.”

So – if you want a front row seat, bring along your cup of coffee and sit back and listen to the conversation-



With all my heart I thank my devoted partner, Harry Williamson, who makes the journey into blindness so much more fun – every girl needs a fella like Harry!

And to Phil Kafcaloudes, a rare gentleman indeed! It was truly a pleasure to meet you.

Thank you to you and your producer, Adelaine Ng, for such a warm welcome at the studio.

© 2014 Maribel Steel