S1: Episode 46 - Michael Hingson

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

Narrator:  Welcome to My Heart is Not Blind. Narrative histories about blindness and perception. A traveling exhibition and book published by Trinity University Press, supported by Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, edited and hosted by Michael Nye. Stories are often found, resting along the edges of surprise and revelation. Every person, every place is a map to somewhere else. Episode 46, Michael Hingson.

Michael:  I can look back at my life and see how I got where I am today. Through the choices that I’ve made. Life is always about making choices. My name is Michael Hingson. Born in Chicago and moved to California when I was five. I have a master’s degree in physics from the University of California at Irvine I became blind because I was born prematurely and given too much oxygen. A condition today known as retinopathy prematurity. My parents were told to put me in a home because no blind child could ever grow up to be a contributor to society. My mother with a high school diploma and my father with an eighth grade education said, we are gonna take our son home and he will grow up to do whatever he chooses and that’s what they did. Blindness is not what people think it is. Blindness is not the end of the world. The biggest problem that blind people face is not blindness, but rather what sighted people think about blindness. How do I get people to understand we are as capable and as qualified to be human beings on all levels as everyone else?

Well, I think to tell the 9/11 story, it’s important to understand what the World Trade Center was like. It was a a place where there was an undertone of excitement because it was part of the world Financial Capital. On September 11th, I was working for Quantum Corporation and I was using my fifth guide dog Roselle. So the elevator that I took went straight to 78 in Tower one. It was an elevator that would hold probably 30 or 35 people, so it took 48 seconds. I timed it to go from floor one to 78. There was always the sound of wind going up and down the elevator shaft At the time that the airplane hit my guy, dog Roselle was under my desk asleep. In our case, we heard this muffled thud and explosion, the building shuttered and we heard the building creaking and groaning as it tipped and continued to tip about 20 feet.

Dogs don’t automatically trust people. That still has to be earned just like it does between people. And so what I did on 9/11, I deliberately was very active at praising her, encouraging her and sounding confident to her Roselle, partner, teammate, muffled explosion, David shouting buildings on fire, evacuating the office, calling my wife, jet fuel odor, burn victims walking down the stairs, encouraging Roselle, helping others, making people laugh on the stairs, meeting firefighters, teamwork, chaos in the lobby, ankle deep in water, going outside, discovering fire, terrorist attack, running, running, running with Roselle. I remember thinking, God, I can’t believe that you got us out of a building just to have it fall on us. And as soon as I thought that, I heard a voice as clearly as you’re hearing me now that said, don’t worry about what you can’t control. Focus on running with Roselle and the rest will take care of itself.

When I started to run, suddenly I heard this rumble that became this deafening roar that I describe as a combination of a freight train and a waterfall. You could hear the glass tinkling in the metal crashing and then the white noise of the building pancaking straight down. We got to Fulton Street, turned right and were engulfed in the dust cloud from Tower two’s collapse. With every breath I took, I could feel stuff going into my throat and settling in my lungs. It was that thick. We both realized that we were gonna suffocate if we didn’t get out. So I kept telling Roselle, go right, right, right. I heard an entrance and Roselle obviously saw it. She turned right. She took one step and stopped. She stopped because we were at the top of a flight of stairs. She did exactly what she was supposed to do.

We were there about two or three minutes when someone from the station found about eight or nine of us, including a woman that I had met coming down the stairs who was crying. She said, help me. I can’t see. My eyes are full of dirt. So I reached out and I took her arm and said, Hey, don’t worry about it. I’m blind. My name is Mike. I have my guide dog with me. You’re okay. We were standing there when we heard that freight train, waterfall sound again, and knew it was Tower one collapsing. David said, oh my god, Mike, there’s no World Trade Center anymore. He said, all I see are fingers of flame and fire hundreds of feet tall and pillars of smoke. The towers are gone. That’s what happened to us on September 11th. The rest of the day we worked toward getting up to Midtown Manhattan and then later in the afternoon I was able to take a train back to New Jersey and get home.

[Outro Music]

Host:  Michael was born in Chicago to parents who believed their son could accomplish anything. He fell in love with learning at an early age. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degree in physics. After the 9/11 tragedy, Michael was featured on the Larry King Show. This launched him into a motivational speaking career that has spanned over 19 years. He has also worked for over 30 years for high tech companies in management. He is the author of two books, Thunder dog, and Running with Roselle. Michael has said emphatically, the biggest problem that blind people face is not blindness. No, but rather what sighted people think about blindness. He said, don’t judge me based on what you think I can do. Judge me on what I can do or what I have done. Next week will be the final episode in season one. My Heart is Not Blind. Season two will focus on the nature of hunger and of understanding. I’m Michael Nye. Thank you to so many from around the world for listening.