It is truly ironic that William F. Buckley Jr., the master of intellectual stunts, should find stunts performed by disabled people profane. When I left the world of the abled-bodied some 30 years ago and joined the disabled community, I asked myself the following question: What do I think about crippled (a word in common usage then and one used by Mr. Buckley) people. I had to reply, "I don't think about them at all."
Jim Dickson is making able-bodied people think about disabled people. That, I believe, is a step in the right direction for mankind.
JEAN B. ZINK
I write with trepidation about Jim Dickson. I, like William Buckley, will be judged to be unfeeling, but other people might have risked and lost their own lives trying to save Mr. Dickson. When ill-prepared and unthinking amateurs are climbing a mountain and get into difficulty, it is considered necessary to attempt to rescue them, whatever the cost. I do not see that imperative, but I do believe that reasonable rescue efforts should be made.
But Mr. Dickson was pushing this farther. He was insisting that, by sheer will-power, abetted by electronics and the help of many others, he could make a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. But even a person with good eyesight who is a skilled sailor is not usually able to sail the Atlantic by himself. Why should Mr. Dickson aspire beyond the capabilities of experienced sailors to such an extreme challenge? And why should I applaud?
I admire Mr. Dickson's strength of will, but I would prefer it were channeled into a more realistic goal. No, I do not want him to repair cane chairs, but I would like him to accept his disability. He should not overcompensate. He should not pretend he can see.
Having once had the pleasure of meeting Jim Dickson, I consider him a sailor's sailor, one who has invested much in the sea and derives much more from it in return. He is a bold man, one who is proud of his accomplishments and will rejoice in being able to spin many a new yarn. His escapades have enchanted both those who are seafaring souls and those who only dream of going to sea one day. We yearn to hear his tales and to glean for ourselves what it is about the sea that lures this man -- blind or not -- to risk his all.
It is difficult to imagine William Buckley sitting down with Jim Dickson over a beer or two to swap sailing stories, no matter how interesting or insightful the seafaring tales might be. For Mr. Buckley has already smugly concluded that there is no valid reason why this or any blind man should ever want to come aboard a sailboat, much less attempt to sail one around the world alone.
Perhaps a blind man should not attempt such a feat. But, then, one does not need sight to see that there is more to life than what meets the eye. One does not need 20/20 vision to know which way the wind is blowing, to feel an adrenaline rush when the sun and a steady breeze are at your back, or to find yourself lost on a dark, stormy night having to depend far more on your wits and senses other than your impaired vision.
One does not need sight to do many things. And one needs only three time-honored prerequisites for the sailing life, which the cantankerous Mr. Buckley seems to know little about: the insight, ingenuity and daring of a Jim Dickson to find a way.
ROBERT R. WILLIAMS
I wonder why William Buckley treats the handicapped as one category of society when, in reality, we are all handicapped, albeit in different ways.
Mr. Buckley cites George Shearing and Ray Charles as examples of how "the blind can lead productive lives." The handicap of blindness does not interfere with the sense of hearing, so these artists are not handicapped in the area of their expertise. But what would Mr. Buckley say of a deaf composer whose handicap, according to Mr. Buckley, would "inherently proscribe" that composer from producing what was meant to be heard?
From the age of 29 on, Ludwig van Beethoven became progressively deaf. In Beethoven's day electronic hearing aids were nonexistent, and the primitive horn-type hearing aids that were in use helped Beethoven not at all. He had to resort to carrying a small notebook in which people wrote when they wanted to communicate with him. And yet it was when Beethoven was profoundly deaf that he composed his best works, including The Ninth Symphony with its tremendous climax, "The Ode to Joy." The first time it was performed, Beethoven got a standing ovation, which, like his music, he could not hear.
Buckley states ". . . it is profane to suppose a cripple (sic) can run, a deaf man hear or a blind man see -- and correspondingly profane to ask them to undertake challenges that in their nature presuppose the active limb or the active sense." I believe, rather, that it is profane to suppose that handicapped people should give up and let themselves be overcome by their handicaps.
MARY ANNE SONNENSCHEIN
The greatest insight into William Buckley's own blindness is his assertion that "the beginning of wisdom in respect of the handicapped is to recognize that they are handicapped." As one who has known countless disabled individuals as friends and colleagues, I believe the beginning of wisdom is to recognize that handicapped people are people first, endowed with a variety of talents, abilities and aspirations as well as limitations (as are we all), and that they have the same rights as you or I to realize them.
It is their voice that counts in making their life choices, not mine and not William Buckley's.