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The Extraordinary True Story of the Man Who Dared to See

Written by Robert KursonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Robert Kurson



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On Sale: May 15, 2007
Pages: | ISBN: 978-1-58836-625-2
Published by : Random House Random House Group

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blindness (28) biography (25) memoir (15) sight (10) medicine (7) vision (6) disabilities (4) science (4)
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Mike May spent his life crashing through. Blinded at age three, he defied expectations by breaking world records in downhill speed skiing, joining the CIA, and becoming a successful inventor, entrepreneur, and family man. He had never yearned for vision. Then, in 1999, a chance encounter brought startling news: a revolutionary stem cell transplant surgery could restore May’s vision. It would allow him to drive, to read, to see his children’s faces. But the procedure was filled with gambles, some of them deadly, others beyond May’s wildest dreams. Beautifully written and thrillingly told, Crashing Through is a journey of suspense, daring, romance, and insight into the mysteries of vision and the brain. Robert Kurson gives us a fascinating account of one man’s choice to explore what it means to see–and to truly live.

Praise for the National Bestseller Crashing Through:

“An incredible human story [told] in gripping fashion . . . a great read.”
–Chicago Sun-Times

“Inspiring.”
–USA Today

“[An] astonishing story . . . memorably told . . . May is remarkable. . . . Don’t be surprised if your own vision mists over now and then.”
–Chicago Tribune

“[A] moving account [of] an extraordinary character.”
–People

“Terrific . . . [a] genuinely fascinating account of the nature of human vision.”
–The Washington Post

“Kurson is a man with natural curiosity and one who can feel the excitement life has to offer. One of his great gifts is he makes you feel it, too.”
–The Kansas City Star

“Propulsive . . . a gripping adventure story.”
–Entertainment Weekly

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Excerpt

Chapter One

Mike May’s life was near perfect when, on February 11, 1999, he
made his way to the dais in the ballroom of San Francisco’s St. Francis
Hotel.
The forty-six-year-old businessman had been invited to present
the prestigious Kay Gallagher Award for mentoring the blind, an
award he’d won himself the previous year. Dozens in the audience
knew his history: blinded at age three by a freak accident; three-time
Paralympics gold medalist and current world record holder in
downhill speed skiing; entrepreneur on the verge of bringing a
portable global positioning system (GPS) to the blind; coinventor of
the world’s first laser turntable; mud hut dweller in Ghana; husband
to a beautiful blond wife (in attendance and dressed in a tight black
top, short black skirt, and black high heels); loving father; former
CIA man.
People watched the way May moved. He walked with a quiet dignity,
effortlessly negotiating the obstacle course of banquet tables
and chairs, smiling at those he passed, shaking hands along the way.
There was more than mobility in his step; his gait seemed free of regret,
his body language devoid of longing. Most of the people in this
room worked with the blind every day, so they knew what it looked
like for a person to yearn for vision. May looked like he was exactly
who he wanted to be.
He was accustomed to public speaking, and his messages were
always inspiring. But every so often a member of the audience would
turn on him, and it usually came at the same part of his talk, the part
when he said, “Life with vision is great. But life without vision is
great, too.” At that point someone would stand and jab his finger
and say, “That’s impossible!” or “You’re not dealing with your inner
demons,” or “You’re in denial.” The objections came from both the
blind and the sighted. May was always polite, always let the person
finish his thought. Then, in the warm but definite way in which he’d
spoken since childhood, he would say, “I don’t mean to speak for
anyone else. But for me, life is great.”
That, however, would not be the message for this evening. Instead,
the tall and handsome May spoke glowingly about the award
winner, about how much it had meant to him to win the Gallagher,
and about the importance of mentoring. He seasoned his talk with
jokes, some tried and true, others off the cuff, all to good effect. Then
he presented the honoree with a plaque and a check and returned to
his seat. When he sat down, his wife, Jennifer, told him, “You made
me cry. You look beautiful in that suit. That was a lovely talk.”
May and Jennifer stayed at the hotel that night. Ordinarily, they
would have awoken and made the seventy-five-mile drive to their
home in Davis, California, each needing to return to work. But Jennifer’s
contact lenses had been bothering her, so she had scheduled
an appointment with a San Francisco optometrist–not her regular
eye doctor, but a college friend’s husband who had been willing to
see her on short notice. Though May was itching to get back to his
home office, he agreed to accompany Jennifer to the appointment.
The morning was glorious as the couple strolled San Francisco and
enjoyed that rarest of pleasures, an unhurried weekday breakfast at a
streetside café.
The optometrist’s office was nearby, so May and Jennifer, along
with May’s Seeing Eye dog, a golden retriever named Josh, walked up
Post Street to make it to the morning appointment. Jennifer assured
him that the visit would take no more than thirty minutes. May had
never accompanied his wife to an eye appointment and was pleasantly
surprised to learn that they would be out so quickly.
The waiting room grabbed Jennifer’s attention straightaway. An
interior designer, she lived in a world of color and flow, and she
began describing it to May: the direction the chairs faced, the nar-
rowing of the hallway that led to the exam rooms, the taupe of the
wall behind the receptionist–“whose cheekbones are stunning, by
the way.” It intrigued May that he had married a woman whose universe
was so dominated by the visual, and it delighted him that she
felt so passionate about sharing it all with him, even about the beautiful
women.
A few minutes later Mike Carson, the optometrist, greeted May
and Jennifer and led them to an office. Carson examined Jennifer,
recorded some measurements, and told her he would write her a
new contact lens prescription. May was glad that things had gone so
quickly–this would allow him to get home in time to pick up their
sons from school.
Carson finished making his notes and flipped on the light. He
looked at May for a few seconds, made another note in Jennifer’s file,
then looked back at May. He asked how long it had been since May
had seen an eye doctor.
“At least ten years,” May replied.
“How about if I take a look?” Carson asked. “That’s a long time to
go without seeing a doctor.”
“You want to examine me?” May asked.
“Just for a second,” said Carson. “Let’s just make sure everything
is healthy in there as long as you’re here.”
May thought about it for a moment, then said, “Sure, why not?”
May and Jennifer switched places so that May now was in the examining
chair, the one with the chin holder and instrument that
looks like the pay-per-view binoculars on top of the Empire State
Building.
“I think you’re going to find that I’m blind,” May joked.
The doctor leaned in and immediately saw that May had a bluecolored
prosthetic left eye. His right eye, his natural eye, was nearly
opaque and all white, evidence of dense corneal scarring. No pupil
or color could be seen at all. Some blind people wear dark glasses to
conceal such an eye, but May had never felt the need to do so. His
eyelid drooped a bit, leaving his eye mostly closed, so no one reacted
badly to it.
Carson stepped away and sat on a stool.
“Mike,” he said, “I wonder if you’d mind if my partner, Dr. Dan
Goodman, takes a look at you. He’s an ophthalmologist, one of the
best in the country. I think he’d be interested.”
May glanced toward Jennifer with just the slightest quizzical
look. Jennifer was already wearing the same expression.
“I guess it can’t hurt,” May said.
Carson left the room. For a moment neither May nor Jennifer
said anything. Then each said to the other, “That’s interesting.”
A moment later Carson returned with his partner. Dr. Goodman,
age forty-two, introduced himself and asked May how he’d lost
his vision.
“It was a chemical explosion when I was three,” May replied.
“Do you have an ophthalmologist?” Goodman asked.
“He died about ten years ago. He’d been my doctor since the accident,”
said May.
“What did he tell you about your vision?” Goodman asked.
“He tried three or four corneal transplants when I was a kid,”
May said. “They all failed. After that, he told me that I would never
see, I’d be blind forever. He was supposed to be a great ophthalmologist.
I knew he was right.”
“Who was he?” Goodman asked.
“Dr. Max Fine,” May replied.
Goodman’s eyes lit up.
“Dr. Fine was a legend,” Goodman said. “He was my teacher. I
sought him out when I was young and asked to do surgery with him
on Wednesday nights. He was one of the great ophthalmologists in
the world.”
May and Goodman spent a minute reminiscing about Dr. Fine.
Then Goodman asked, “Mind if I take a look?”
“Not at all,” May replied.
Goodman dimmed the lights, stepped forward, and, using the
thumb and forefinger on one hand, opened the lid of May’s right eye.
The stillness of the touch startled May. Goodman’s hand stayed
motionless, absent the vaguest hint of tremor. May had felt that kind of
touch only once before, from Dr. Fine, who had held his eye open in
just the same way.
Goodman peered into May’s eye. He saw the massive corneal
scarring that trademarks a chemical explosion. He shone a penlight
into May’s eye, which May could barely detect (most blind people
have some vague light perception). But when Goodman waved his
hand in front of the eye May could not perceive the movement.
Goodman conducted a few more tests, then looked through the
same biomicroscope Carson had used. It took only moments for
him to see that May was totally blind.
The exam lasted perhaps five minutes. Goodman turned on the
lights and pulled up his stool.
“Mike,” Goodman said. “I think we can make you see.”
The words barely registered with May.
“There is a very new and very rare stem cell transplant procedure,”
Goodman continued. “It’s indicated for very few types of
cases. But a chemical burn like yours is one of them.”
Jennifer leaned forward. She wasn’t sure whether to look at
Goodman or her husband. What was Goodman saying?
“Despite your horrible corneal disease, it looks like there’s good
potential for vision in your eye, and that it can benefit from a stem
cell transplant,” Goodman said. “I’ve done maybe six of these procedures.
Most ophthalmologists in the world haven’t done any. It’s not
something anyone specializes in. And I don’t know of anyone who
has done one on a patient who has been blind for as long as you’ve
been. But it could work.”
All May could think to say was “That’s interesting.”
“If you’re interested you need to come back for something called
a B-scan,” Goodman explained. “That’s an ultrasound designed to
look into the back of the eye to make sure there’s no gross pathology
or abnormality. But if the B-scan is clean, there’s a good chance this
could work.”
Goodman’s words sounded surreal to May. His body and brain
agreed simultaneously that it was impossible, that once Goodman
ran the tests he would see what Dr. Fine had seen–a patient beyond
repair. Still, the newness of the science intrigued May–he’d never
before heard the term “stem cell” used in connection with vision–
and he fashioned this thought: “I’m in the technology business, and
technology changes all the time. Why can’t vision technology
change, too?”
“Is it complicated?” May asked.
“The stem cell transplant is complicated,” Goodman said. “By itself
it provides no visual benefit. But it sets the stage for a cornea
transplant three or four months later. If all goes right, the two surgeries
add up to vision.”
May appreciated that Goodman spoke clinically and directly,
and without trying to inspire him. To Jennifer, something seemed
amiss. Vision had always been impossible for May, not because science
hadn’t caught up to him but because something fundamental
was missing or unfixable.
Jennifer watched May for his reaction. There was no hallelujah.
There were no cries of “Oh, my God!” Rather, May pursed his lips
slightly and gazed up and to the right a bit, the way he always looked
when he was considering the theoretical rather than the wonderful.
“I’d like to think about it, if that’s okay,” May said.
“Of course,” Goodman said. “Take your time. Call my office if
you’d like to go ahead with the B-scan. It was very nice to meet you.”
Goodman shook hands with May and Jennifer. And with that he
was out of the room. The encounter had lasted less than ten minutes.
After the appointment May and Jennifer were walking back to
their red Dodge Caravan, which was still parked near the St. Francis
Hotel. The weather was bright and brisk, and reminded Jennifer of
the couple’s newlywed days living in San Francisco, when they
walked miles for just the right Chinese takeout and talked about
their future on the way.
“Do you and Wyndham have soccer practice tonight?” Jennifer
asked, unlocking the Caravan’s doors.
“Not tonight,” May said. “Good thing, too. I’m already behind on
a bunch of business calls. It’s amazing–just one day and the whole
world seems to rush out from under your feet.”
Josh climbed in and sat on the floor of the passenger side, between
May’s feet. Jennifer found her sunglasses, started the ignition,
and pulled out onto Post Street. With good traffic they would be in
Davis in an hour and a half. May opened his cell phone and began to
return business calls, simultaneously making certain that Jennifer
didn’t miss the turnoff to Route 80. Though May could not see, he
possessed a collection of uncannily accurate mental maps–it was
that kind of skill, and others, that caused many to consider him a
kind of super—blind man.
Once across the Bay Bridge, the couple relaxed a bit. For a few
miles neither said anything. Then Jennifer looked over at May and
remarked, “Well, that was fascinating.”
“It sure was,” May said. “It doesn’t sound real, does it?”
Jennifer hesitated for a moment. She hadn’t had time to begin to
sort out the implications of Goodman’s offer, but she knew this
much: something big had happened, and whatever it meant it was
certain to be an intensely personal issue for her husband. For that
reason she wanted to say nothing, to simply let him process it for
himself. But she also needed to hear him talk.
“So, hypothetically,” Jennifer finally said, “and we don’t know if
this would even work, but just for fun, what would it be like? What
might you like to see?”
In twelve years of marriage they had never discussed what it
might be like for May to see, not even in the playful way in which
they allocated imaginary lottery winnings. Since early childhood,
May himself had not thought about what it might be like to see, a
fact that struck many who met him as inconceivable. The concept of
vision simply was not part of his existence. Just the sound of Jennifer’s
question felt otherworldly to him.
“Well, Dr. Fine made it very clear that I would never see in my
lifetime, so it’s probably not possible,” May said. “But just for fun . . .”
Jennifer kept her eyes on the road.
“I think I’d like to see panoramas, especially at Kirkwood,” May
said, referring to the family’s favorite ski resort. “And I’d like to see
beautiful women.”
“That makes sense,” Jennifer said. “You’re always thinking about
those things anyway.”
“Panoramas and women are two things I love but can’t go
around touching. They can’t really be adequately described to me.
Those are two things you really have to touch with your eyes in order
to fully appreciate.”
“Where might you go to see these beautiful women–other than
your own home, of course?” she asked.
“Saint-Tropez. Straight to the topless beaches.”
“I need a tan,” Jennifer said. “Mind if I go with you?”
“If you don’t mind me gawking.”
“You’ve been gawking since I met you. What else?”
May thought further. He told Jennifer he might like to see the Eiffel
Tower or the Statue of Liberty or the Galápagos Islands, all places
to which he’d already traveled. Definitely the Golden Gate Bridge.
Jennifer nodded and kept driving, past rolling hills and sprawling
strip malls. Neither she nor May spoke for a time, each of them
content to paw at and then retreat from this new idea. Finally Jennifer
asked May if he might like to see their boys.
“Of course I would,” May said. “I would love to share the experience
with them–it would be like stepping on the moon with them.
But it’s interesting, Jen. I think about seeing them and I don’t feel like
I’ll see anything I don’t already see. I feel like I already know exactly
what those boys look like, not just physically but their entire beings.
So in a certain way I can’t imagine vision making any difference.
That sounds strange, doesn’t it? But I can’t imagine vision or anything
else adding anything to how much I love or feel like I know
those guys.”
The van rolled along in silence for a few seconds.
“And, of course, I feel exactly the same about you,” May said. “I
already know you.”
“What if you didn’t like how I looked?” Jennifer asked.
“You’re beautiful,” May said. “I think I know exactly what you
look like. What would I see that I don’t already see? You’re gorgeous.”
For a while May and Jennifer said nothing. At the halfway point
they compared hunger levels and debated whether to stop for lunch.
The consensus was to press forward in order to make it home in
time to pick up the kids from school.
“Saint-Tropez, huh?” Jennifer asked.
May laughed. Jennifer took the Davis exit, telling her husband
about a new client she had lined up, listening to his ideas for a new
driving route to Kirkwood. He appreciated this hour with his wife.
She had never mentioned the myriad practical benefits that would
accrue to her if he could see–his ability to drive, fill the gas tank,
read his own mail, sort the laundry, pick up groceries.
“Imagine seeing the panoramas at Kirkwood,” May said. “This
really has been an interesting day.”
Jennifer pulled her van into the two-car garage of the Mays’ threebedroom
house, which sat at the elbow of one of the town’s shady,
tree-named streets.
Inside, the couple thanked Jennifer’s mother, who had watched
five-year-old Wyndham and seven-year-old Carson, and kissed her
good-bye. May threw a tennis ball to Josh in the backyard, fixed himself
a sandwich, and continued the daylong process of returning
business calls. When the boys’ school let out, he strapped the tan
leather harness on Josh and walked over to pick them up. Kids called
out, “Hi, Mr. May! Can we pet Josh?” As always, May said, “Sure
thing, Tyler” or “Is that you, Emily?” On the walk home his sons
competed to describe the bugs they’d found during recess.
The rest of May’s day moved like every other: business calls,
wrestling with the boys, feeling a new fabric Jennifer had picked for
a client, drafting a business letter, doing the dishes, telling bedtime
stories. It had been ten hours since May had returned from his meeting
with Dr. Goodman. In that time he had not thought once about
new vision.
And that is how quickly life returned to normal for May. His
start-up business was primary in his mind. In a risky move, he had
resigned his executive position at a major adaptive technology company
in order to design, manufacture, and market a portable GPS
system for the blind–the first of its kind. By linking May’s receiver
and mapping software to a laptop computer contained in a backpack,
a customer could tune in the global positioning satellites that
orbited the earth. Then, with the push of a button, that customer
could receive real-time, turn-by-turn directions to whatever location
he desired: home, work, grocery store, restaurant, park, Starbucks–
anywhere. May saw his product as liberating. It gave a kind
of vision to the blind.
But he needed funding, so much of May’s life centered on pitching
potential investors. He had bet it all on this company (which was
still without a name), drawing on personal savings to support both
business and family. Neither he nor Jennifer was of independent
means, which meant that he had maybe a year to make the business
work. After that, he would need to return to the corporate world.
The restraint on freedom that came with a traditional executive position
was discordant with May’s DNA.
He worked eighteen-hour days, testing the GPS between coffee
shops in Davis, on the ferry to San Francisco, in airplanes as the
unit’s cables spaghettied onto the shoulder of the person seated beside
him. In Anaheim he raced a group of blind cane users from their
hotel to Disneyland. Even though he had to stop along the way to
hot-glue some loose wires, he still won. May believed in his product.
And he was able to work from home, a godsend in allowing him
the time with his family he so deeply desired.
When Wyndham’s soccer coach quit before the team’s first practice,
parents gathered at May’s house to determine what to do next.
He told them that he would coach the team, practices and all, and
that he would mail them schedules immediately. The parents applauded.
When May got up to adjourn the meeting and reached for
his cane, some of the mothers said, “Wait a minute–you’re blind?”
May said, “Yep.”
He ran drills like Sharks and Minnows, set up orange cones in a
mostly symmetrical field shape, and taught the five-year-olds ( Jennifer
called them “widgets”) to run together in packets toward the
correct goal. They loved his stories about playing soccer in college,
like the one where he made the other team use his beeping ball for an
entire half, and how he got a bloody nose when the silent ball hit him
in the face.
Many of the players knew May from school. Every year, he’d
bring Josh to area classrooms to tell children what it was like to be
blind. He loved their questions: Do your kids get away with stuff because
you can’t see them? No, because I have secret techniques to stop them.
But they always try.
Were you all bloody after your accident? Super
bloody.
When you met Bill Clinton, how did you know it was really
him? I asked him to talk so I could make sure. He demonstrated his talking
gadgets with the robot voices, set up a maze of chairs to show
how he could zigzag around with Josh, and printed each kid’s name
in braille on a card they could take home. Carson and Wyndham
thought they had the coolest dad in the world. The couple had never
taught the boys to be proud of May. As Jennifer told people, “They
just are.”
In the time between working and parenting, May squeezed in the
remainder of a full-blown life. Much of this was made possible by his
exceptional ability to move through the world. Often, sighted people
would observe him walking smoothly through a banquet hall or
an airport or an unfamiliar house and insist that May could see.
Some would even challenge him on it. He was hard-pressed to explain
his skill in simple terms.
Part of it stemmed from May’s highly refined ability to detect
echo. Over the years, he had learned to distinguish tiny differences
made by the sounds of voices or footsteps or canes as they bounced
off various objects and openings. The information was so subtle that
it vanished if May tried to think about it. Many blind people cannot
use echolocation–some can’t hear the echoes; others refuse to trust
them. Echoes were sewn into May’s instinct.
Spatial perception and spatial memory were also critically important.
As he moved about a place, whether in a friend’s dining
room or New York’s Penn Station, May’s brain vacuumed in the relative
locations of obstacles, openings, and passageways, then assembled
them into mental maps he could recall at will. He attributed this
understanding of space–and his ability to memorize and utilize it
so fluently–to his lifetime of participation in sports.
And May was flat-out good with his two primary mobility instruments,
the cane and the dog. Few blind people use both, but May
saw power in each. The cane was simpler to use and didn’t need feeding,
but it bogged down in crowded situations and never picked
up overhead obstructions, the enemy of the fast and free. The dog
was difficult to take overseas and had to be fed and walked during
business trips, but he was able to detect overhead obstructions,
could move quickly through crowds, and was nice company. Of the
1.3 million legally blind people in the United States in 1999, the great
majority used canes, while only 7,000 used dog guides.
May’s mobility skills lowered the drawbridge to the world. But it
was his approach that took him places. To go where May wanted to
go–which was everywhere–one had to be willing to get lost, a terrifying
prospect to many blind people. To May, getting lost was the
best part. He told people, “I’m very curious. So getting lost doesn’t
feel like a bad thing. It’s part of the process of discovering things.”
When they asked how he’d gotten so adept at cane travel he told
them it was his curiosity, not his cane.
Weeks had passed since May had met Goodman and still he’d given
little thought to the doctor’s offer. Every so often, Jennifer would ask
her husband for his thinking on the subject of new vision, and it was
at these times that May appreciated her most. There was no longing
in her question, no subtext of urging him along. May confessed to
Jennifer that he hadn’t thought much about Goodman’s offer. He
also told her that life already felt good and busy and full. And that’s
how they left it as winter turned to spring.
As the months passed, however, May did not feel that it was
responsible to allow the matter of new vision to linger dormant on his
to-do list. He respected the import of Goodman’s offer and knew
that he should give it the serious consideration it deserved. He began
to turn things over in his head.
He tried to imagine a life with vision. But his thoughts always returned
to his current life, his real life. He had risked everything on
his business, which was now in its most critical phase and demanded
his full attention; a single misstep could tear it from its
moorings and drown the project. After two recent close calls during
similarly stressful periods, his marriage was now thriving and hopeful.
He was focused on raising his boys and being present for the moments
in their lives–especially the small ones–which already
seemed to fly past too quickly.
He tried to imagine what vision could offer. He could already go
virtually wherever he chose–and loved the adventure of finding his
way. He could already do whatever he desired–sometimes better
than the sighted. And he continued to believe that he saw Jennifer
and his boys in the real sense of the word–the sense that speaks to
what it really means to know a person, what it means to connect to
another’s soul.
Vision was not calling to May. He knew that the idea of a blind
man refusing sight would strike most of the world as unthinkable.
But he thought of it this way: What if a sighted person was offered a
new sense? What if he was offered, say, the ability to foretell the future?
At first, that prospect might seem thrilling. But if the person
was already leading a full and rich life, would he really want it? Might
it not disrupt an otherwise wonderful life? And what if it turned out
to be something wholly different from what the person had bargained
for? May wondered how many happy people would proceed
if offered a permanent crystal ball or sonar or the ability to read
minds. How many of them would say yes to a new sense? And that is
how May felt about vision. His life was already complete without it.
And yet, during the breaks in his days, May found himself wondering
about what it might be like to see. He might be touching one
of Jennifer’s fabrics and think, “What would my favorite color be?”
Shooting hoops with his sons he might ask, “Would I recognize my
boys right away?” At the neighborhood coffee shop where he loved
to listen to the lilting conversations and high-heeled clicks of
women, he wondered, “Would I still prefer blondes?”
May continued to focus on his work and his family. This was no
time to be distracted from what was most important. Still, crossing
the Golden Gate Bridge he might ponder, “What would I find beautiful?”
Walking in the park he might ask himself, “What would look familiar
to me?” Shaving in the bathroom he thought, “Would I look
like myself?”
And he wondered about the red hat.
When he was a very young boy, just before his accident, his father
had taken him deer hunting, a mystical adventure that had required
awakening before dawn, carrying weapons, and wearing a
bright red hat for visibility, one that could be seen from distances of
forever. This was May’s first memory in life. Since losing his vision,
he had felt himself just a whisper from being able to see that red hat
in his mind; it was always just a hairsbreadth beyond his grasp–
there but not there. And he asked himself, “Would I see that red hat
if somehow I were made to see?”
One night in August, after the boys had been bathed and tucked in,
Jennifer and May sat on lawn chairs under the orange tree in their
backyard. She had asked him little about the prospect of new vision.
Tonight, she wanted to know.
“So, where are you on this?” Jennifer asked. “Do you think about
it?”
“I do think about it,” May said. “Every time, I ask myself if vision
would really change my life. And every time the answer is the same:
I don’t think it would. Life is already so full. I don’t need it. I don’t feel
like I’m missing a thing.”
For a minute neither of them said anything. Then Jennifer leaned
over, kissed her husband’s cheek, and said, “Okay.”
of Jennifer’s fabrics and think, “What would my favorite color be?”
Shooting hoops with his sons he might ask, “Would I recognize my
boys right away?” At the neighborhood coffee shop where he loved
to listen to the lilting conversations and high-heeled clicks of
women, he wondered, “Would I still prefer blondes?”
May continued to focus on his work and his family. This was no
time to be distracted from what was most important. Still, crossing
the Golden Gate Bridge he might ponder, “What would I find beautiful?”
Walking in the park he might ask himself, “What would look familiar
to me?” Shaving in the bathroom he thought, “Would I look
like myself?”
And he wondered about the red hat.
When he was a very young boy, just before his accident, his father
had taken him deer hunting, a mystical adventure that had required
awakening before dawn, carrying weapons, and wearing a
bright red hat for visibility, one that could be seen from distances of
forever. This was May’s first memory in life. Since losing his vision,
he had felt himself just a whisper from being able to see that red hat
in his mind; it was always just a hairsbreadth beyond his grasp–
there but not there. And he asked himself, “Would I see that red hat
if somehow I were made to see?”
One night in August, after the boys had been bathed and tucked in,
Jennifer and May sat on lawn chairs under the orange tree in their
backyard. She had asked him little about the prospect of new vision.
Tonight, she wanted to know.
“So, where are you on this?” Jennifer asked. “Do you think about
it?”
“I do think about it,” May said. “Every time, I ask myself if vision
would really change my life. And every time the answer is the same:
I don’t think it would. Life is already so full. I don’t need it. I don’t feel
like I’m missing a thing.”
For a minute neither of them said anything. Then Jennifer leaned
over, kissed her husband’s cheek, and said, “Okay.”
May’s summer got even busier. He amped up his efforts to recruit
investors, took his sons to minor league baseball games, kept
up with his father, who was not feeling well. He had less time than
ever to think about a topic like vision. And yet, something about the
subject didn’t sit right with May. He couldn’t quite put his finger on
it. But it felt like it was something that went back a very long way.




From the Hardcover edition.
Robert Kurson

About Robert Kurson

Robert Kurson - Crashing Through
Robert Kurson earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, then a law degree from Harvard Law School. His award-winning stories have appeared in Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, and Esquire, where he is a contributing editor. He is the author of Crashing Through and Shadow Divers. Crashing Through is based on Kurson’s 2006 National Magazine Award-winning profile in Esquire. He lives in Chicago. Visit the author’s website at www.robertkurson.com.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Mike has often said that his life story is as much about his mother as it is about himself. Why is this?

2. Do you think you would allow your children to take the risks that Ori Jean allowed Mike to take?

3. Mike complied a big list of reasons to decline new vision. He could list only one reason to go forward: curiosity. Why was curiosity so important to Mike?

4. There came a time when Mike's struggle with his new vision became so difficult that he nearly destroyed his anti-rejection medication. Why didn't he simply let his vision go and return to his very full and satisfying life as a blind person?

5. Mike chose not to read about his predecessors in history, all of whom seemed to suffer a profound depression for having dared to see after a lifetime of blindness. Why did he ignore these case histories?

6. How would you describe Mike's new vision? Is it what he, and the scientists, expected? How is his sight different from traditional sight, and what challenges does his new vision pose?

7. Robert Kurson describes the world Mike sees as similar to a modern abstract painting. How is this so?

8. Describe Mike's relationship with his wife, Jennifer, before and after the surgery. What challenges does his vision pose in their relationship?

9. Early in MIke's new vision, he is astonished to learn that highay signs hang over the road and that stop signs aren't yellow. What are some other visual aspects of our world that sighted people take for granted and never discuss?

10. How do Mike's children react to their father's new vision? Was it what you expected? Was it how you would expect your children to react? Is it how you might have reacted if it was your father who came home with new vision?

11. Why do you think those pateints who came before Mike had such bad results emotionally? Why do you think Mike's results were so different?

12. In what ways, if any, was Mike worse off for gaining vision? Were there things he saw that he wished he hadn't seen?

13. Were you surprised at Mike's reactions to the sight of certain things? The homeless? The heavyset person in Costco?

14. Dr. Ione Fine must teach Mike to do a lot of "cognitive heavy lifting" in order to make sense of what he sees. What is meant by this? How does Mike teach himself to see?

15. The book often stresses that vision is dependent on knowledge. How is that possible? What is the implication for Mike's new vision?

16. If you were in Mike's place, and given all the risks he faced, would you have gone forward with new vision?

17. Discuss the significance of the titles Crashing Through. Have you ever had a similar experience in your own life, of meeting challenges by throwing yourself headlong into a risky adventure?


  • Crashing Through by Robert Kurson
  • August 19, 2008
  • Biography & Autobiography
  • Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • $16.00
  • 9780812973686

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