Seeing Optimism

by Khiana Lowe

At the age of seven, I realized I was blind. Before then, I thought seeing clearly through only one eye was normal. When I closed my left eye, everything around me became a blur of colors and shapes. I told my parents and my mother took me to see an optometrist the following Tuesday. She missed a meeting at the World Trade Center. That Tuesday was September 11, 2001.

I see 9/11 differently than most Americans. September 11th revealed the depths of human tragedy and depravity, but it also reminds me that positive outcomes can result from negative situations. My blindness protected my mother while the devastation of that day united America. The impact of 9/11 was permanent while my blindness was not. The optometrist told me that I would never see in my right eye, but my mom and I refused to believe him. He said there was a slight chance I could improve my vision by covering my left eye for two hours a day but that the difference in my vision would likely be insignificant. Regardless, we decided to try. Covering my eye proved to be bothersome. I was embarrassed to leave my house while wearing the eye patch. However, I understood, even at the age of seven, that my vision was worth the discomfort of the patch. Those hours proved valuable; my vision improved from 20/400 to 20/30 in three years. This instilled my sense of delayed gratification as I learned that optimism is most effective with action. I face risks looking beyond the potential for failure. Rather, I see the success that hard work can bring.

I realized I lacked a fear of risk during my junior year when I ran to become regional treasurer of Jack and Jill Eastern Region. I was treasurer of my local chapter of Jack and Jill, a service organization of black families, but wanted to enlarge my experience. I knew that it would take an enormous effort since I knew only a handful of people outside of my chapter of 13 teens and there would be 600 voters at the Teen Conference in Baltimore.

My chapter and I were a team, meeting for hours to design T-shirts and fliers and plan my campaign strategy. While campaigning, I met over 500 people and heard many promises of votes and although I had written my speech at the last minute, I was confident in my chances of winning. When the results appeared on the screen, my mouth dropped. I lost by more than 80 percent of the vote. To further my embarrassment the frightening results were displayed in front of everyone. I was devastated. I believed I had worked hard but I learned that my competitor had spent months on her speech; I had worked hard but she had worked harder. Although upset, I realized the defeat of the election could not erase the abundance of new friends I met and the presentation and organization skills I acquired during the campaign. I decided to utilize those skills and take another risk by running for treasurer of my school’s student government a few months later. This time I won. I took more time crafting my speech ahead of time in running for school treasurer rather than focusing solely on other parts of my campaign. This year, my school’s student government is much more active than in previous years and we have already raised over $1,400 for local charities.

My defect in vision shaped my life by enabling me to see more than one perspective in any situation and grasp the bigger picture. My mother’s safety on 9/11 is more or less luck but having vision in both eyes is not. It’s easy to accept failure but turning it into success requires fortitude.  I could have easily accepted that I would be blind in one eye. Instead, I decided to work for it just as I worked to become treasurer after losing that first election. Optimism comes in two forms, seeing what good can come from luck and seeing what good can come from working hard. I choose the latter

Khiana Lowe is a freshman at Stanford University and a 2012 graduate of Long Island Lutheran High School.