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You Do Not Know Until You Try

Editor's Note: Sidney Morris is a member of AEBC's Montreal, Quebec, Chapter. He is married and has four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way.

I stumbled on the fact that I had diabetic retinopathy in 1991. My wife was at her ophthalmologist when I jokingly said, "Take a look into my eyes." He took one look and told me I could not leave the hospital building. I was sent to a diabetic ophthalmologist and started Laser Surgery.

I had been diagnosed with Type Two Diabetes at the age of 26; I am now 79 years old. The diabetes was controlled with diet and then pills, and for the last 15 years with insulin. I visited my endocrinologist regularly, as well as my ophthalmologist, as I had been wearing glasses since I was in my early 20's. I was under his care until 1991 but was never advised that I had--or was showing signs of--Diabetic Retinopathy.

As with most eye diseases, Retinopathy is progressive. While still legally able to drive, I gave up night driving as I did not feel comfortable with my failing vision. I was afraid of being the cause of an accident and harming someone, including myself. I was a bookkeeper and, by the time I was 72, I had to retire due to my low vision. I also lost my driver's license at the same time.

Now came the question: What do I do now? What does a partially sighted person do to keep active?

I was physically fit and raring to go, but with nothing to do. After much investigation, I applied to The Montreal Association for the Blind (MAB) and was accepted. The MAB, to me, is the finest organization of its kind, but that is only one day a week! Next, I joined a gym (Nautilus Plus) and ended up going three days a week. That still left me with one free day.

I then got into something I am really proud of--I enrolled in a stone sculpturing class. I found it in the syllabus of "The Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors". This is a Golden Age centre in Montreal where any one 50 years and older can join. They offer the widest selection of courses, crafts, fine arts etc. imaginable.

Here I am 72 years old and starting something that I know nothing about! Never before have I done any artwork or crafts.

I dubiously went to the first class and got a few stares, with others seeing me walk in carrying a white cane. The instructor gave me a gray stone about 4" x 5", and lent me a chisel and mallet. He also gave me a crayon to sketch something on the stone. All he said to me by way of instruction was, "Give it a whirl. You won't know until you try." Evidently, an aptitude for sculpturing does exist. Seven years and 15 pieces later, I am still sculpturing. How does a partially sighted individual go about stone sculpturing?

I use a clip-on swing lamp with 100W bulb about two to three feet above the stone that I am working on. Next, I use a 10X magnifier (the type a jeweller wears around his head). The glasses swing down over the eyes. This leaves both hands free to work. I started with 2x lenses but had to progress to 10X over the years. A black marking crayon is used to sketch the stone during the progressive stages of the work. Lastly, it is the sense of touch that one uses to let you see what you are doing. Naturally, the instructor also plays an important part in the whole thing. I have to discuss with him or her how to go about a part of the sculpture that is difficult. It takes a professional's advice to help out.

The type of work I do has changed over the years. In the beginning, I created animals, faces, torsos etc; however, I cannot see well enough now, so I limit my pieces of art to abstract shapes that I design (or doodle) myself. This way, it does not matter if I make an error. An abstract could be anything. The average weight of a finished sculpture is about 25 pounds and it takes approximately five to six months to produce one.

Why am I writing this?

I want to emphasize that anyone, be they vision-impaired or physically impaired, can find a pastime that could be physically and mentally rewarding. Where there is a will, there is a way. You do not know until you try.

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