Kia ora koutou, as you know I have macular degeneration. To say that it is a handicap is an understatement. It is a blow, a grief, a constant test of my confidence and it can only get worse. It is not written about except in NZ Blind and Low Vision newsletters and online. No–one talks about it and while shop assistants are kind, they really don’t get it. I look okay, I talk okay, I can do the numbers on my eftpos (so far) but I cannot see the label or the price.

Its a problem that cannot be seen. My eyes behind the glasses look okay. I can make my way around counters and racks without mishap so why do I need someone to read the label? Or help with stairs?

The thing is if I go out for dinner to a restaurant, someone else has to order for me and when the food comes I cannot see it on the plate. I can feel it with a fork and I can eat it and then know what it is but I cannot see it. This is because the sight in the retina goes and all that’s left is the peripheral vision each side of the retina. This is much better than nothing but not great. Try looking at everything sideways.

I cannot see my face in the mirror. I comb my hair but who knows what it looks like? Not me. I cannot see if a cup or plate is clean, I’m just grateful I have a dishwasher which puts the clean crockery and cutlery issue beyond doubt. I talk to friends but I cannot see their faces. I know their voices, their laughs, we discuss our reactions to world events. I hear about these events on RNZ or podcasts, my friends can do that too but they can also watch televison and films.

What amazes me is that, until I got the diagnosis, I’d never heard of it. Somehow, although it has affected thousands before me, I had never heard of it. In fact I had never heard of a lot of things that can happen as one ages. There seems to be a blanket of silence over ageing and its joys and anguish, its pleasures and pains, and I just wish I’d been better informed before I actually got old. I have had to educate myself about so many things which must have happened to millions before but which I’d never heard about until either I or a friend came up against it and it had to be investigated and understood.

So because I’m turning 92 next week I decided to urge you all not to be as ignorant as I was. I’m saying educate yourselves. We have technology, a huge resource, we can look up anything we like and we can learn. Indeed if it wasn’t for technology I would not be writing this Busk – I could not see to do it. Just think, up to maybe thirty (twenty?) years ago, if you started losing your sight, the dark just gradually, irrevocably descended and your ability to sew, to read, to cook, to walk to the shops, was gone. But because its 2021, I can still work. I can  sit in front of a 27inch screen which is programmed with large bold print and I type on a yellow and black keyboard. I have a library of books on my iPad and have turned the type to as black and bold as I can. The day will come when I’ll have to get/borrow audio books but for the moment or the next fortnight, or maybe(hopefully) three months, I can still read print.

Do we keep silent because nobody likes to hear old people grizzle? (Does anyone know what the word grizzle means any more?) Maybe its not talked about because growing old is not always fun and we don’t want to be seen as a Moaning Minnie. Maybe the idea of growing old is something we’d rather not face but unlike the word elderly which is grey and quavery and whiny, old is a strong, firm. in your face word.

So be curious, be informed, be bold, grow old…