A Ball to Roll Around

Allman, Robert G.


  • Robert Allman explains why losing his sight endowed him with an appreciation for life and how he learned to believe in himself and adapt and adjust to reality.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. The realities of life are seldom easy to face, but sometimes the tougher the breaks, the more stoutly a man meets them. Robert G. Allman is blind, yet he lives a fuller life than many people supposedly in possession of all their faculties. One of the first blind athletes in the country, he became a champion wrestler at the University of Pennsylvania. He swims, he is president of the National Blind Golfers Association, and he has been a radio sports commentator. Now he is a
successful Philadelphia lawyer and insurance broker. His secret? Perhaps a glimpse of his personal philosophy will provide a clue to the answer.
I lost my sight when I was 4 years old by falling off a boxcar in a freight yard in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and landing on my head. Now, I am 32. I can vaguely remember the brightness of sunshine and what color red is. It would be wonderful to see again. But a calamity can do strange things to people.
It occurred to me the other day that I might not have come to love life so, as I do, if I hadn’t been blind. I believe in life now. I am not so sure that I would have believed in it so deeply, otherwise. I
don’t mean that I would prefer to go without my eyes. I simply mean that the loss of them made me more appreciate what I had left.
Life, I believe, asks a continuous series of adjustments to reality. The more readily a person is able to make these adjustments, the more meaningful his own private world becomes. The adjustment is never easy. I was bewildered and afraid, but I was lucky. My parents and my teachers saw something in me—oh, a potential to live you might call it—which I didn’t see. And they made me want to fight it out with blindness.
The hardest lesson I had to learn was to believe in myself. That was basic. If I hadn’t been able to do
that, I would have collapsed and become a chair rocker on the front porch for the rest of my life. When I say belief in myself, I am not talking about simply the kind of self-confidence that helps me down an unfamiliar staircase alone. That is part of it, but I mean something bigger than that: an assurance that I am, despite imperfections, a real, positive person; that somewhere in the sweeping, intricate, pattern of people, there is a special place where I can make myself fit. It took me years to discover and strengthen this assurance. It had to start with the most elementary things.
When I was a youngster, once a man gave me an indoor baseball. I thought he was mocking me, and I was hurt.
“I can’t use this,” I said.
“Take it with you,” he urged me, “and roll it around.”
The words stuck in my head: “Roll it around, roll it around.” By rolling the ball, I could listen where it went. This gave me an idea—how to achieve a goal I had thought impossible: playing baseball. At Philadelphia’s Overbrook School for the Blind, I invented a successful variation of baseball. We called it groundball.
All my life, I have set ahead of me a series of goals, and then tried to reach them one at a time. I had to learn my limitations. It was no good to try for something I knew at the start was wildly out of
reach, because that only invited the bitterness of failure. I would fail sometimes anyway, but on the average, I made progress.
I believe I made progress more readily because of a pattern of life shaped by certain values. I find it easier to live with myself if I try to be honest. I find strength in the friendship and interdependence of people. I would be blind, indeed, without my sighted friends. And very humbly, I say that I have found purpose and comfort in a mortal’s ambition toward godliness.
Perhaps a man without sight is blinded less by the importance of material things than other men are. All I know is that a belief in the higher existence of a nobility for men to strive for has been an
inspiration that has helped me more than anything else to hold my life together.
Those were the convictions of Robert G. Allman, a sightless young Philadelphia attorney who walks without a cane because, he says, it is necessary to get out and rub elbows with life.