|Otsuki Award (Japan)
Supported, and Given the Power to Live
Miyazaki city Tadayuki Sugimoto [Age 46, masseur, male]
“There is a tumor with a diameter of 7 centimeters between your brain and eyes. You cannot hope to live a long life without having this tumor removed”
This is what the doctor told me when I first consulted him about the progressing visual loss. He further warned me that my vision may not recover after the operation because the tumor is compressing the optic nerve. “It’s hopeless. Never mind the operation, but what will happen to the kids if I can’t go back to work...” My head flooded with concerns. I was 42 years old at the time. After my divorce had finalized a few years ago, I took in my children to live with me, while making a living as a long-haul truck driver. As I told my daughter in distraught, “My time may be over”, she angrily snapped, “How can you say that? You still need to look after us!”
These were the words that propelled me into having the operation.
The operation took 13 hours. My daughter was beside me when I awoke but I could only hear her. I was in total darkness. I’ve really lost my eyesight! I was shocked. Despite the doctor’s words, I had believed that I will be cured once I took the operation and be able to go back to work. I sat there despaired not knowing what to do next, when my daughter said,
“Dad, your being alive is all that matters. You’re not alone. We’re here for you”
My daughter’s words once again gave me the hope to go on; I collected myself and thought, “I have got to hang tough, I’m the father”, and began looking for my new way of life immediately after being released from the hospital. I went to the local braille library where I was referred to the special needs education school for the visually impaired in Miyazaki city, only to find out that they won’t be accepting new students until the upcoming April. The following 6 months seemed like years, because by then I was more than ready to move on.
My 43-year-old heart beat fast as the first day of school came in April 2010. It was also my long-time dream come true, because I quit school to work immediately after finishing junior high. It goes without saying that I loved learning, but school events including athletic and cultural festivals were just as immensely enjoyable. Coming in runner-up at the speech contest of the visually impaired for the Kyushu district, taking a shot at long-distance running which I’ve despised in the past but liking it so much that I’ve come to want to compete in the marathon race, are just a few of many fond memories.
Learning to read braille was especially empowering in my quest for a new life. Tactile reading was not easy for a 40-some year old but I had a strong will to bring back “reading” into my life. My teacher had given me interesting learning materials and continuously encouraged me that I will soon be able to read. It was just before the summer vacation when my teacher said to me one day, “You did it. You’ve conquered all 50 sounds of the Japanese syllabary,” and these words brought tears of joy to my eyes.
My braille teacher was visually impaired as the rest of us, and always came to the class accompanied by a guide dog. As I discovered the amazing abilities of the guide dog through close contact, I longed for the “freedom of walking” that can be made possible with its aid. I met my current partner Bato in the fall of my second year at school. Life with a guide dog was not as easy as it had seemed; for the first few months we lacked communication and would end up walking into an unknown alley, or I would be annoyed at Bato when it did not obey me. But as the days went by, we began to connect with each other, and I would walk in a calmer state of mind thinking to myself, “It isn’t so bad to take a detour. We’ll get there sooner or later.”
Taking slow but confident steps with Bato resembles my own life. Although countless difficulties and uncertainties forced me to take the long way round, I now find myself firmly moving forward.
I spent my final year at the school studying vigorously to acquire the national qualification for licensed masseur/chiropractor. I was not studious as a child to be honest, so this was my first time to truly exert myself in learning. With the license acquired, I am now preparing for new employment.
Ever since I lost my eyesight, I sometimes find myself pondering how blessed I am. I have never once wondered, why tumor? Why loss of vision? There is so much to be grateful for... to be alive, to have the strength to work, to be given the opportunity to study at school, to gain the ability to read braille. I am so blessed to have my daughters and many others who support and encourage me. I like smiling faces. My hope is to heal the bodies and hearts of the people through my massage at my new job so much, so that they will all be leaving with smiles on their faces. There is nothing I want more than to contribute to and return to the world the support and the power to live it has given me.