Life Is a Journey
What a beautiful morning, I thought as I walked to the bus stop on Friday morning, my faithful Seeing Eye dog, Joba, walking at my side. Joba was thrilled to be working, and as we walked, he panted, wagged his tail, and lifted his head high. As I did everything I could to keep up with the overly excited twenty-two month old yellow Labrador retriever, I pondered in my mind the activities I had to do that day. I had Communication Theory at eight-forty in the morning, just a bit too early for me. Spanish was at eleven, and lunch with the Communications Department followed along with a meeting. My day was packed full, and I cherished this quiet moment alone. As I walked, feeling the sun on my face, the cool morning breeze blowing my long hair, I sang a song. I can’t remember what it was. It was either a hymn or a contemporary Christian song. Either way, it was just me, Joba, and God. And as I pondered Joba’s excitement, something occurred to me. Do I walk through life like my dog guide? Do I hold my head high no matter what life brings? Am I confident of where I’m going in life? That’s the thing about Joba. He is very confident, especially when we are approaching new areas of travel. In fact, he speeds up a little bit more because he loves a challenge. Am I like that? Looking back at all my experiences through the years, I’d say that I could maybe use some work.
I was born and raised in a small town in Nebraska. The town of Milford was filled with family and friends, and I knew most of the people. Still, there were those people that I didn’t know that always said, “Hi, Charli,” and I always wondered how they knew me if I didn’t know them. It must have been because my dad is the town’s plumber. Anyway, I lived a normal life. My parents took me and my sister to church every Sunday. They taught me all the things that were important. They taught me to always love and be kind to others. They taught me about Jesus. But most of all, they loved me, and that is what is most important to me. It is because of them that my faith in Jesus is strong.
I attended Milford Public Schools from kindergarten on through high school. I was just like my other peers. I got good grades and did well in school. Recess was my favorite part of the school day. I ran around the playground playing tag, sliding down the slides, and swinging on the swings. When I got home, I often did a pretty good job procrastinating on my homework. As a child, I was happy and carefree. Only one thing was different: I was the only blind student in my class. I was happy with my life, but sometimes I paid too much attention to the stereotypes that people had, and still have, about blindness.
I was shy. I liked to stay in my comfort zone. Youth group was the hardest. I never felt like I fit in, and I was too afraid to talk to my peers around me. I was afraid of rejection from them. But it was during this time when I did find some really close friends who are still very important to me. The other times I struggled was in cane travel or in class. The thing I most hated was asking other people questions. I dreaded it. I was afraid of what people would think of me, if they’d laugh at my question, or if they would simply ignore me. I loved getting to know people as long as they approached me first. It wasn’t until after high school that I started coming out of my shell and developing a more assertive personality.
After I graduated from high school in 2009 and went on to independent living training at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, my confidence grew. I met some wonderful role models at the Commission and made friends that I still have today. Through my time at the center, I got lost, experienced times of confusion and frustration, and learned from all of it. Cane travel, home management, and wood shop taught me the most confidence as I previously believed there was absolutely no way for me to be able to use a drill press, measure and cut pieces of wood, and make my own end table. This end table sits in my apartment living room, and I’d say I’m pretty happy with it. I faced challenges during this time, but college life would really test me.
I began my college career at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska in the year of 2011. This proved to be very interesting. I always practiced taking notes in high school, but my Braille teacher always typed up and brailed the class notes for me. When I went to college, I realized things were very different. I didn’t have my teacher to sit beside me and take notes. I was responsible for taking my own notes. I was responsible for filling out the study guides and worksheets for the class. And it was my job to figure out how I was going to take a test. I soon caught on, but there were many times homework frustrated me, so many times I went home and cried. I realized that I was being more assertive, telling the teachers what I needed, and evidently it worked because, at the end of the first quarter of school, I was getting A’s in all of my classes.
Even though things seemed to get easier, there was always something new to learn for each class. I had to learn how to use tables and Microsoft Excel in order to complete a huge health project for Basic Nutrition class. I had to know how to do works cited pages for papers in class. I suddenly realized that I was teaching myself these things. In the end, I got an A. Overall, college life wasn’t great, but I was getting through it. However, as life continues on, trials are often thrown at us.
It was the fall quarter of 2012 when everything seemed to come crashing down on me. During this time, I felt like the weight of the world rested on my shoulders. I struggled in my Genetics class because I didn’t understand the information. No matter how much I studied, and no matter how the teacher tried to help me, I just wasn’t getting it. The highlight of that quarter was receiving a scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind in Nebraska that October. Still, even during that fun weekend at the Nebraska State Convention, I couldn’t get my mind off of my Genetics class. There was just so much to do, and I felt like I was wasting my weekend at a convention that wasn’t going to help me pass my Genetics class. I also wondered how I was going to learn to create a PowerPoint presentation that was required for my Lifespan of Human Development class. Let’s just say my mind was bogged down with stress and worry. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, my former Seeing Eye dog, Errol, got sick. It was so sudden, and there wasn’t much anyone could do. We had him put down two weeks later. The shock of it all devastated me. I honestly have no idea how I survived that quarter, but I did, and I ended up passing my Genetics class. My PowerPoint presentation came together, and I had so much fun presenting and creating the PowerPoint. I would say that it was my family and friends that helped me through all of it, but most of all, it was my savior, Jesus Christ. I couldn’t have done it without Him.
I graduated from Southeast Community College in the spring of 2013 and went to New Jersey for my second Seeing Eye dog, Joba. Now, I am at Nebraska Wesleyan University Lincoln, and things are going great. Of course, I know that hard times will come, but there will also be happy times, successes, and failures. But come what may, I will simply imitate my happy Seeing Eye dog. I will do what he does. I will hold my head high and accept the challenges. If there is one life lesson that keeps coming back to my mind, it would probably be something like this.
Through the times I struggled with making friends, the times I succeeded, and the times I failed, I realized that I simply have to keep walking. Life may get easier, or it may get harder. Most likely, I will have to walk through more dark valleys, lose a couple really good friends, and go through trials that seem so unbearable. Then, life could change, and I could receive blessings from God, something wonderful and happy. But I believe that, no matter what, there is always some beauty to behold in everyday life. Life is weather. It is the times when the sun is shining brightly, the night is dark, and the morning is filled with birds’ songs. It is the rain of spring and the white, pure snow of winter. Life is the clouds covering the sky, no sun in sight. And life is the sun shining its rays through the thick mist and fog, trying to reappear. Life is challenging. It is filled with laughter and tears. You will find love and hatred, joy and sorrow. But most of all, life is a journey.
Charli Saltzman is a student at Nebraska Wesleyan University Lincoln (NWU), currently studying Communications with a minor in Psychology. Saltzman, 22, has been blind since birth and enjoys writing, reading, and the outdoors. A lover of animals and a dog guide user, Saltzman plans to one day be a motivational speaker or writer.