What My Father Left Behind
by Janet Perez Eckles
At 13 years of age, my parents and I visited an ophthalmologist. As I sat in the examining chair, my face firmly on the chin rest and pupils dilated, the doctor looked into my eyes, shining a bright light.
"She did inherit it," he said with coldness. "You need to be prepared. There is no cure for this retinal disease."
My father carried the Retinitis Pigmentosa gene causing a deterioration of the retina which, in most cases, results in blindness. Although my brother's retinas seemed to be fine, I'd inherited the gene.
Fifteen years after my initial diagnosis, my father began to lose his eyesight and so did I. He was 55 years old, but I was only 28. In a matter of two years, we had both lost our sight completely.
I focused on the effects of my own darkness. My world crumbled as the black curtain fell, destroying the dreams my husband and I had for us and for our three little boys. But when I turned to God for hope and strength, He responded by opening my eyes to a new revelation.
My father had given me not just the RP gene, but the example of determination and tenacity as well. We were all living in Bolivia in 1964 when he defied the family's opposition to move to America. He and Mom worked tirelessly to satisfy the requirements imposed by the U.S. Immigration Department to enter the country and establish residency.
Once in the states, he overcame humiliation, intense loneliness, helplessness and uncertainty. He endured ridicule due to his lack of fluency in English, but he pressed on. And he managed to gather enough money for the basics - rent a small apartment, buy modest furniture from thrift stores and put a down payment on a car. Nine months later, he sent airline tickets for my mom, my brother and me.
Decades later, as an American citizen, I look back at what he'd shown me. He taught me the determination to move forward when facing adversity. He set an example proving that humility is crucial to success. He demonstrated the commitment to family and the importance of setting priorities.
His journey taught me valuable lessons for my own path in the darkness. Much like a baby takes its first steps holding tight to his father's hand, my dad held onto God as he stepped from the comfort of our hometown in Bolivia to the unknown in a foreign land.
I did the same as I stepped into the unfamiliarity of a sightless world. Holding onto God's hand, I gained confidence and learned the language of gratitude. With profound appreciation for my father's example, I learned how he had applied a powerful blend of faith and tenacity; the same blend I used to fulfill my own role as a wife, mom, Sunday school teacher, Spanish court interpreter, inspirational speaker and writer.
What I inherited from my father helped me to see my life with a more radiant and meaningful glow.