S1: Episode 22 - Shellford Cantan

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 22, Shellford Cantan.

Shellford:   I, I, I love the ocean. I love the sound of the ocean. I love the smell of the ocean. I love actually jumping in the water and just feeling the ocean <laugh>. And I, I love it. I, I, I love just laying a blanket out on the beach and just sleeping right there next to the ocean. A beautiful sound and just so calming and relaxing. My mom’s grandma was native Hawaiian, so she’s a full-blooded Hawaiian, one of the few Hawaiians left in the world. I grew up in a small town called Pahoa on the Big Island. Pahoa was a plantation town that was actually the last sugar plantation on the Big Island, I think. You know, growing up, growing up, my, my parents wanted to see what was wrong with my eyes, so they had me go to the eye doctor. He, uh, he prescribed me with these tick tick sunglasses that made me look weird, <laugh>.

So, of course, you know, little kids are the most vicious, and they’ll tell you what they think. They’ll call you blind boy, <laugh>, you know, blind bat, and they’ll call you all these names that you know, <laugh>. I fought a lot, you know, like, blind, I’ll kick your butt. I don’t care if I’m blind. Well, it was me and my younger brother, actually. We flew up here to Honolulu to see a specialist, and we were sitting in a doctor’s office, and the doctor came out with both my parents and said, well, unfortunately for your two sons, they suffer from retinitis pigmentosa. And the doctor explained to him what retinitis pigmentosa was in. He’s basically said later in their adult life, they’re gonna be blind. I was 12 years old at the time. So it’s kind of a shock to us. I, I didn’t believe it. I think what, what my dad did for me, that, that meant a lot to me, was he, he never ever treated me different.

He had the same expectations for me that he had for everybody else. I still had to go out and do the lawn, even though it took me eight hours to cut the grass. I still had to do it. So I think it helped me as far as knowing that no matter, even if I’m blind, I’m still gonna be expected to do certain things. Right now, all I can see is light. I can see no shadows, no color, no shapes, no figures, no nothing except for light. I was, I was, I was, I was embarrassed. Like, blindness is not normal. I’m gonna be an oddball here. I always wanted to fit in. When I, when I broke up with my girlfriend of seven years, I kind of had to move back in with mom and dad for a little while. And it sucked <laugh> because, you know, it really sucked.

And, and my mom kind of told me, you gotta get out and do something with yourself. It’s just weird how I found my calling. I, I ended up going to college for a semester right after I finished a program here. I guess they, they kind of like my personality. They like my attitude. And I got called into the supervisor’s office and I said, okay, what, what now, <laugh>. And so they told me to sit down and, um, Sandy asked me, do you wanna work? I said, okay. It was the greatest experience of my life. It, it made me fall in love with the idea of teaching. I, I, I knew that the next relationship I was gonna get into there was no hiding my blindness. I gotten into one serious relationship since that point. And, um, and we dated for three or four years. Um, we had a baby.

Baby was born really, really early. And so, so I had a baby. Um, you know, and I went up there every single day and I sat with him at Kap’iolani Medical Center for eight months. And I’d just sit there for hours, you know, just hanging out after work. I’d go up there, hang out with him, talk to him, and I felt him, you know, I, I touched his ears. I felt his little nose and felt that his hair lies. You know, I kind of created an image in my mind of what he looked like in August, uh, after his lungs were pretty developed and he was ready to come home. He caught pneumonia and it kind of went downhill from there. He passed away eight months after he was born. Um, right now I’m a orientation and mobility instructor for vocational rehab. I teach blind consumers how to travel independently, try to instill confidence in them, try, try to change the perceptions they might have or, or, or, or the, or. Society has about blind people. People relate to the word blind as something so negative, so horrible. I’ve had people come up to me while this one lady at the bus stop, she said, I feel so sorry for you. That’s the worst thing that can happen to anybody. I said, what? And she goes, being blind. I said, really? I said, so a mom and their dad losing their child. That’s not worse than being blind.

All blindness is a, is a slight inconvenience. That’s all it is. So, you know, I I, I share my students there. There’s nothing wrong with being blind. It’s not the end of the world. And with the right attitude, the right training, and the right opportunities, you, you can’t contribute. You can, you can’t be productive in society.

[Outro Music]

Host:   Shelford fell in love with the idea of teaching. His laugh and confidence is contagious. He remembers his father telling him “you’re not stupid your other senses, work fine go out there and do something with your life.” My father taught me the value of patience, and to understand the world and all its possibilities were right in front of me.

Join us next week. Two new episodes will be released. Please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can also go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast for portraits and transcripts. Thank you for listening.