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Authentic Eagles: Katherine Quinn On Vision

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.

Katherine Quinn, MCAS '16

I am obsessed with eyes. I spent last winter’s many snow days drawing eyes with reflections of other people in the pupils. It’s ironic because I have terrible eyesight. I often have trouble seeing what’s going on around me or who I’m passing in the Quad. My glasses are so thick that they distort my surroundings, making me feel unaware to the present. Yet even though I don’t understand completely what’s going on around me, my head spins with preconceptions about the people I’m passing, and based on those judgments, I immediately put restrictions on their identities. But I think that this physical seeing is different from vision. For me, seeing is the way I perceive the world around me based on lenses that distort my vision.

I’ve learned the most about vision from the kids I work with at Perkins School for the Blind. When I first started teaching mobility lessons in the pool at Perkins, I saw restrictions. I saw that the kids had multiple, severe impairments: some were nonverbal, others in wheelchairs. Because of that, I immediately expected that they would never have normal lives, that they would never be able to laugh innocently or play with other kids in make believe worlds. I perceived disability. As I gained experience, I realized that I had judged too quickly the ability of the kids I saw, viewing them through a lens of hopelessness.

When I’m in the pool with Nathan,* the water sees us as equals. It gives us both the ability to float, use our arms to splash each other, walk our legs along the bottom of the pool, and feel at peace. Once I started seeing the kids at Perkins through the lens that the water sees them, I realized their ability and the beauty in our commonality. We can communicate through smiles, laughter, holding hands, and dancing to our new favorite One Direction songs, and have magical moments of the shared, infinite joy of children. Water provided me with the lens through which I have come to envision the possibility of these kids. It gives me the clarity to see beauty even in the inexplicable mystery of a world with kids who have special needs.

The lens of water provides a more clear vision of beauty and way of seeing the world than most of us have. Beyond water’s ability to equalize and free us from restrictions, it also shows us beauty in the way it creates peace. I often find myself rushing against time, always looking towards the next thing, and not seeing the beauty of my present surroundings. But when I scuba dive, I immerse myself deeply in the water of the expansive ocean and see the world through the lens that water sees it: with peace. Forty feet below the surface, the world is different. The sun refracts through algae blooms and dances on patterns in the sand that are made by the tide, and this sand is infinitely older than me. In those moments, seeing the depths of the ocean as the water sees it, I feel aware of my surroundings, I realize the insignificance of time and the beauty of peace.

In those small moments, seeing the world through the lens of the water has challenged me to think about the way I see the world in other instances. Looking back on those experiences, they weren’t extraordinary. In fact, they were ordinary. But to me, that’s the point. The lenses I place on the world often cloud my ability to see commonality and peace, to envision the ordinary as extraordinary.

I’m not perfect and I will never be able to see the world entirely without judgment, but I’m grateful for the experiences I have had at Perkins and while scuba diving which have challenged me to start seeing the world with a different lens. And just like my drawings, I think the way I see other people is a reflection of the lens through which I see myself. I project my own uncertainties into judgments on others, and advice to friends based on my own experiences. But I have learned that despite the depth to which I have learned about other individuals in my life, I will never be able to truly understand their identities and actions because I have not lived in their experience. I can witness the glitter in the eyes of Nathan’s mom and his own smile as she embraces him, but I know that I will never understand that type of love until I have my own child. So I’ve come to be more content with the mystery that I can never truly see through the lens of other individuals, but in attempting to do so, their lenses may reflect a vision of my own soul.

*Name has been changed to preserve confidentiality.

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