Seeing is usually believing—but it’s not always necessary.

By Jonna L. White Illustration David Pohl

Three years ago, when I met a cat named Nell at the animal shelter where I volunteer, I didn’t realize she was blind. No one there knew at first, but it went a long way toward explaining why she seemed so stressed and overwhelmed by everything going on. Yet whenever I petted her, she would make this crazy-loud purr that melted my heart. Out of pity, I decided to adopt Nell, only to realize that there was no need to worry. In fact, she seems to intuitively understand a lot about the world. Taking her in taught me some worthwhile lessons.

1. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Adapt!

Nell never wallows. When I brought her home, she wandered around, a little awkward and unsteady but clearly determined to feel out her new surroundings. Once she learned to navigate the house, she walked with confidence.

2. Take responsibility for your own happiness.

In her initial explorations, Nell discovered a chair in the living room, which is now her favorite napping spot. She found the basket filled with cat toys, befriended some of my other kitties, and figured out where her humans slept. She ensured that everything she could want would be within easy reach.

3. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

Nell is selective about which of her feline roomies she will hang with on a regular basis. She shows her displeasure to those who invade her personal space with a low growl and a preemptive swat. If they don’t back off, she removes herself from the situation. She knows not to waste time on anyone who makes her unhappy.

4. Seek those who truly love you, and love them well.

When Nell sits on my lap, she purrs so loudly that I once worried she had breathing problems. She likes to touch her face to mine, as if giving me a kiss, and sometimes nibbles my fingers.

5. Always look on the bright side.

Nell adores lying on the rug in front of the sliding glass doors, where she can soak up the sun’s rays. On warmer days, she puts her nose right up to the screen, sniffing the air and listening to the outdoor sounds. She still fully enjoys the world, even without sight.

Honestly, I don’t know whether Nell ever thinks about being blind. I’m guessing not, since despite her limitations, she appreciates everything that life has to offer without seeming to dwell on what she lacks. To me, that’s the most important lesson of all.

Illustration By David Pohl