crashing through with mike may

While on a trip over to Islandwood a few weeks back, another parent in Kayla’s class recommended a book called “Crashing Through”.  It’s a biography of Mike May, a man blinded by a chemical explosion at age three.

I’m not yet finished with the book, but have to say it’s possibly the most inspirational book I’ve read in the past year – a time which has required much inspiration.  The quote at the very front of the book drew me in right away :

"To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself." – kierkegaard

This is an amazing adage.  I’ve been thinking about this since reading it last week.  More on Mr. Kierkegaard later.

Growing up as a blind child in 1950s America, Mike May was taught to embrace challenge, and not to accept being marginalized.  At the time, most blind children were not permitted to attend the same schools as sighted children.  Few were invited to risk injury by doing things such as navigating themselves around independently, or do things such as building an 80 foot tall ham radio tower.  May pursued a college degree, and became a record-setting paralympic skier.

Some have said that the book really takes off when May regains vision in one eye, following a new stem cell procedure.  I found much inspiration in May’s spirit and approach to life well before he became sighted.  Indicative of this spirit, he debates whether or not to pursue the procedure at length, asking himself what he’s likely to gain from sight, that he doesn’t already have.  He lives a very happy and fulfilling life as a blind person, married with two wonderful boys, and working hard as an entrepreneur.

The central question he asks himself is whether the procedure is worth the numerous risks he’d face.  He could lose his light perception, the mere glimmer of which helps him navigate.  The procedure could fail.  He risks cancer by taking the medicine necessary to reduce the risk of rejection of the stem cells and new cornea.  The only reason to try it, is because he’d not experienced sight within the realm of his memory. 

He accepts the risk and regains sight in one eye (the other eye was removed years ago as a result of an infection).  His vision is not perfect.  His brain strains to process the new information flooding it.  But the book conveys the feeling of this new journey very vividly.  Unfamiliar ground, but an interesting ride nonetheless.

This is where I am now – about 2/3 of the way through the book.  The story was so inspiring that I could not wait to finish before talking about it.  I would recommend this book very much.

Important to this story are the key people who encouraged May to expect the best from himself, and never to use blindness as an excuse for doing so.  Central to the story is his mother Ori Jean, who relentlessly looked for the best opportunities for Mike, even as a single parent raising several kids with not very much money.  Also central is the teacher that Mike has when he enters elementary school, who demands that the kids in his charge always strive for the best.

It highlights how much we benefit by accepting challenges, and climbing out of our comfort zones.  Consistent with the “effort effect” stuff written by Carol Dweck – in which she advocates that we embrace a “growth mindset”.

In a lot of ways I find Mike May’s approach to life as an inspiration.  He’s a human being, with fears and flaws.  But he comes across as honest about himself, and to others – and is all about living fully and appreciating all the goodness in life – love, beauty, adventure among those things.

Kierkegaard was right about the risk of daring, verses the risk of not.  This same spirit is exactly what I need to embrace in the next stages of recovery. 

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