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Seeing Clearly

When she was 6 years old, “The doctor looked at my mom and said, ‘She shouldn’t be able to walk across the room without help.’”

Samanthia Farthing rose from her chair that day in the eye doctor’s office, walked alone to him, and said as simply and as forcefully as she knew how, “I’m God’s miracle.”

Now, 10 years later, I went to visit 16-year-old Samanthia in a classroom at the non-denominational Mountain Christian Academy in Martin, just down the road from Prestonsburg in Floyd County.

“Sam” had spent the morning tutoring 10-year-olds, showing them that math is not as difficult as it seems. “People basically make math harder than it is. You can’t do algebra without knowing how to multiply. Break it down and do it one step at a time.”

When I put out my hand, Samanthia greeted me with a strength and smile that I could feel and instantly know was real. We sat across from each other in the room that soon would be crowded with students beginning a new fall term. Mountain Christian Academy is pre-school through the eighth grade.

Samanthia told me she’d be a junior at the nearby Catholic Piarist school, named for the 15th-century priest who dedicated his life to education reform.

Legally blind since birth, Samanthia rejects the word “handicapped.” Wants no part of its meaning as “incapacitation.”

“God just blessed me with independence,” she says. “I can see you, but I just can’t see very far. I have some peripheral vision.”

When she was 18 months old, Samanthia underwent surgery to uncross her eyes. “I’ve had all kinds of tests,” she smiles. “I’m not supposed to be able to see colors, but I do. Nobody can understand why. When I was 3 months old, my mother would feed me with the touch of the spoon to my mouth. When she came close but didn’t touch, she told me she knew I had some sight.”

Samanthia remembers, when she was an early teen, she visited the School for the Blind in Louisville. “At orientation, kids were led around and being helped to do everything.” As well-intended as the program was, maybe it was an inner voice that told the mountain girl to help herself, then to begin to help others.

Our conversation went beyond blindness.

“My glass is half full, not half empty,” said Samanthia, drawing from a family foundation of faith.

“Do you know about Helen Keller?” I should have known better to ask.

“One of my heroes!” she replied.

“How do you see your future?”

“Social work, but I’m not sure. I’m exploring different degrees. I might work to help abused children.”

Samanthia makes “mostly A’s, some B’s” and has earned a Robinson Creek Scholarship, which will pay for her tuition, room and board, books, and give her spending money for four years of college.

“Where will you attend?”

“The University of Kentucky,” she says with a smile broadening into joy.

“Favorite subjects?”

“Math, English, and history…I don’t like biology.”

Samanthia finds it difficult to read Braille, and it’s obvious she’d rather not.

“How about a seeing-eye dog?”
“I’d like that, because it’s dangerous crossing the street.”

Loneliness can be a problem, and she says she sometimes feels left out. “I can’t see a concert, but I can hear it. I love to play baseball and basketball, but I can’t be on the team. I attend the Little League games.”

Her father manages a grocery and her mother is a pre-school teacher. Samanthia belongs to a support group, and she advises others with visual impairment “to have good friends and think of good things…You need to be happy with yourself and not pay any attention to what other people say.”

I come back down the Mountain Parkway in clouds spilling rain, and I remember Samanthia’s words: “I’m just God’s miracle. He’s my best friend and there’s no way without him to lean on.”

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