It was completely dark under my blindfold. A voice I didn't know told me to take the arm offered by another person whom I happened to know but couldn't see. He told me he was leading me through an open door, down a corridor, into a meeting hall and to a table where I gripped the edge until my guide placed a chair beneath me and invited me to sit. I could hear conversations echoing in a cavernous room until the meeting was called to order by a voice I did know, that of Jim Windham, president of the Oxford Lions Club.
My husband and I were guests at the club's first time "dining in the dark" dinner at which participants would share a meal while blindfolded and assisted by personal guides. The point was to enhance, if briefly, our comprehension of being sightless. We were led to a buffet where our guides told us the menu, we chose what we wanted and were led back to our places at the table. We felt for the position of the fork, knife and glass and tried to square ourselves to our plates. The guides told us where our food was on our plates as if they were clock faces. We picked up our forks and gamely pointed them in the direction of the first thing we wanted to eat.
I focused intently on not putting a green bean into my chin instead of into my mouth, while my guide Richard Henderson, engaged me in light conversation, and I spoke with someone unseen on my left. As the plate emptied, I felt around its surface to find what was left. All the while, I noted a heightened sense of hearing and could discern numerous conversations going on around the room. Other senses take over when you lose one. Finally, we were told to untie the blindfolds and our eyes clinched shut in the brightly lit room. I looked down quickly to make sure there was no potato clinging to my shirt.
As conversations and comments about the experience followed, long-serving Oxford Lion John Burson movingly told about when he thought he'd be blind for life. During World War II, he was changing a tire that exploded, throwing dirt and debris forcefully into his eyes. He could see nothing and feared the worst. He spent a long night in the hospital tent trying to prepare for life as a blind person. He felt no anger, only quiet acceptance of what appear to be his fate. Come morning, he opened his eyes and found his vision had returned inexplicably!
Richard and his wife, fellow Lion Nancy, proposed the dinner after Richard and Allen Memorial pastor Max Vinson attended a similar event held by the Social Circle Lions. The menu was spaghetti, and Richard says eating wasn't the problem he expected. Mainly, he was unnerved having to trust someone he didn't know to take care of him and being in a strange place without being able to see his surroundings. "And when they were talking, were they talking to me? I couldn't see anyone's face and didn't have the clues you normally get from body language to guide my responses," he recalled.
"People who are blind have to walk by faith and not by sight, and that comes straight out of the Bible," said Jim, the Oxford Lions president. Helen Keller was the deaf and blind advocate for the sightless. "In 1925, she challenged the Lions Clubs to make sight their mission," he explained, "and we accepted the charge." Lions around the world have a long-standing commitment to programs that serve the needs of the blind or visually challenged and raise millions of dollars annually to provide sight-saving drugs for at-risk children in Africa, to restore eyesight through surgery, and to improve eye care here and around the world.
In Georgia, Lions run the Camp for the Blind in Waycross where 200 kids go to free summer camp and the Georgia Lighthouse in Atlanta collects, cleans and distributes used glasses. The Oxford Lions, sponsor of the annual Oxford Fourth of July parade, hold a yard sale and a pancake supper to meet a financial commitment to efforts to improve sight and prevent blindness. But their service doesn't stop there. At Flint Hill Elementary School, Palmer-Stone when it was in Oxford, they give bikes to the most improved boy and girl in grades 3-5. They sponsor three Scout troops and provide the meeting space, support the Miracle Field and lead community cleanup. "Our motto is ‘We Serve.' When we see a need, we try to fill it," said Jim. Want to serve? Call him at (770) 786-4209.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.