Crashing into something amazing

Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk,
Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See
by Robert Kurson
Ever read a book
and then you just can’t stop thinking about it afterward? This is one of those.
I mean, who knew how important our brain is,
when it comes to our ability to see? (Guys, it’s hella important.)
Here’s the story:
Mike May was blinded at age 3 in a chemical accident. His mom decided her son
was going to have a normal life, so she expected him to do everything his
siblings did—so the guy grew up riding a bike and crashing all over the place.
Dude grew up to become a downhill skiing world record holder.
So… here he is,
living his mostly wonderful adult life, when a doctor tells him there’s a
chance he could see. Since May’s life was fine as it was, and the surgery and
treatment carried risks, it wasn’t as obvious a choice as a person might think. 
But in the end, he popped for it. Here it is in his words:
“‘I didn’t do it to
see… I did it to see what seeing was.’” (p. 292)
So now comes the
really fascinating part.
Turns out, May
could recognize some things, but struggled mightily to tell his sons’ faces
apart. Because his brain didn’t have the opportunity to make all kinds of
connections by seeing when he was young, his brain still didn’t know how to do
some seriously important things, like facial recognition.
Since he’s a can-do
guy (to an extreme), he set about memorizing clues that would help him distinguish
men from women, and flashlights from saws. (Does this sound exhausting? Um… yeah.) This part actually made my heart
ache with admiration for his determination to Do.This.Thing.

So: there’s the story itself, and there’s the way it’s presented. And both are stellar. Kurson’s writing style is nothing but pleasant. There were moments I’d pause to admire the way a paragraph was put together. 

And, happily,
the book is masterfully and wonderfully illustrated, which helps a person
understand all kinds of things: how optical illusions depend on our brains
having learned certain visual cues, and also why kittens raised in the dark who
weren’t allowed to walk didn’t develop the ability to see. This last part is
amazing, guys. Here’s May again: “‘I think exploration is everything. I think
that’s why I never grew up feeling like I couldn’t see.’” (p. 263)
By the end of the
book, it’d been quite a journey, and I nearly wept. Not what I expected when I
started reading this story, but it turns out it was full of remarkable
surprises. 

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