Now that I think of it, maybe he meant funny, as in "odd"

November 26, 2013 • Posted in blindness, book tour, Flo, public speaking, Uncategorized by
That's Jenny with my (now retired) Seeing Eye dog Hanni and me a few years back at The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn.

That’s Jenny with Hanni and me at The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn.

After a presentation I gave at The Bookstore, a Glen Ellyn reporter approached my longtime friend Jenny Fischer, who works there, and asked, “Was she funny like that when she could see?”

That wasn’t the first (or the last) time someone has said something along those lines. It’s tempting to look for an upside to disability. That hardship can make you tougher. That blindness can make you a better listener. More humble. Or, I guess, make you funny.

The perception that becoming disabled changes ones character is one I’ve always struggled with, and have always been skeptical about. And Monday, listening to the radio, I finally came to understand why. I happened to tune into NPR that day just in time to catch a Fresh Air interview with journalist James Tobin about his new book The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency. I loved the author’s response to a question about whether polio had made Roosevelt stronger and more determined as a president. “The question doesn’t make sense to me,” Tobin said. “People either have those capacities, or they don’t.”

He acknowledged that a crisis might reveal a person’s character in sharper relief, and that perhaps Roosevelt’s disability allowed him to see himself for the strong person he was, but still, the author remained adamant that Roosevelt was a strong and determined man long before he was stricken with polio. “It gave him a kind of confidence in his own strength,” he said, adding that perhaps that sort of confidence might only come when a person is tested.

Whatever courage, humility, attentiveness, or sense of humor I have, I owe not to blindness, but to my marvelous mother. Flo raised me — and my six older brothers and sisters — that way. .

I’ve written before about our father dying when I was three, and Flo using her strength and determination and courage to pass a high school equivalency test while still grieving, transform herself from housewife to full-time office clerk and work until her 70s to raise us on her own. Children learn a lot from watching their parents.

Flo is 97 years old now, and we’re still learning a lot from her. She’ll be heading to Chicago Thursday to share Thanksgiving dinner with my sister Bev, her husband Lon, our neighbor Brad, me and the magnificent chef, my husband Mike. I have a lot to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

susan nelson On November 27, 2013 at 12:07 am

HI Beth,

Great blog! I heard that Terry Gross interview, too, and was impressed by Tobin’s wisdom and observations about FDR. Makes me want to read his book.

(I found “Goldfinch” at Barnes & Noble night before last and bought it on your recommendation. Just what I need, more books. !)

You do have a good sense of humor … as well as a light and light-hearted touch as an editor.

I look forward to getting to know you better, at Brigitte’s party and during our Memoir II sessions starting in January.

Thank you so much.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. It sounds like fun. I’ll be with friends, some of whom used to work at Scott Foresman when I did. I’m taking Fannie May’s.

All best,

Susan (Nelson)

bethfinke On November 28, 2013 at 9:47 am

You know, I’ve heard from other’s who heard that NPR interview and were as taken by it as you and I were — happy Thanksgiving, Susan!

Linda Lyon On November 27, 2013 at 12:35 am

Beautifully said, Beth.

Nancy and Steven’s friend, Linda

bethfinke On November 28, 2013 at 9:48 am

Thanks for the compliment, Linda. Any friend of N & S is a friend of mine…

Janet On November 27, 2013 at 1:01 am

Wonderful! Happy thanksgiving from your neighbors…we’ll be down the street raising a glass with and to family, Flo and our dear friends. XO

bethfinke On November 28, 2013 at 9:49 am


Lauren On November 27, 2013 at 7:30 am

I tried to comment when I first read this, but didn’t manage to get my iPhone to do what I told it to. Anyway, I just want to say that I am always impressed anew at your ability to find genuine joy without ever sugarcoating. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with the gratitude and generosity you spread wherever you go.

bethfinke On November 28, 2013 at 9:50 am

Thanks so much, Lauren. Promise me you’ll let me know if I ever saccharine-coat things, though…

Cheryl On November 27, 2013 at 7:34 am

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded by marvelous people.

bethfinke On November 28, 2013 at 9:52 am

You, too, Cheryl. Give my best to the Hoovers, looking forward to being with them — and you and Rich — this Christmas.

Hava On November 27, 2013 at 8:24 am

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, you strong, funny, humble woman.

bethfinke On November 28, 2013 at 9:56 am

Ah, Hava, you caught me fishing for compliments and were generous to take the bait. THANK YOU, and a happy thanksgiving to you in Iowa. —

Dean Fischer On November 27, 2013 at 10:44 am

And the answer to the question is… Yes. You were funny even when you could see. In fact, when you could see, you had even more things to be funny about!

But your blog is great. I have often thought about this question. Does the adversity help make the person stronger and better? I think you are right. The adversity only illuminates the inner character that was already there.

But I can only dream that one day my kids talk about me the way you talk about Flo !


Sent from my iPhone

bethfinke On November 28, 2013 at 9:58 am

Hmmm. Maybe if you live until your 90s the kids will start to compliment…?

Carl On November 28, 2013 at 10:00 am

Thanks to Dean above for answering my question. I wondered what your friend Jenny Fischer said to answer the reporter.

Brad On November 28, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Having just had Thanksgiving with you and part of your family, Beth, made me realize how appropriate was this blog. Your Mom was everything you said and I realize how lucky you were to be raised by such a delightful woman. Thanks so much for the best Thanksgiving in a long time. I’m looking forward to enjoying more of Mike’s cooking warmed up tomorrow.

bethfinke On December 1, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Best Thanksgiving in a long time? That is high praise. THANK YOU Brad. You were sweet to come and spend quality time with us. Thanks for the wine, your company and most importantly, for coming up with a simple word I have never thought to use when describing Flo: delightful. That’s perfect.
And Chef Michael’s food was perfect, too, wasn’t it? Hope you enjoyed it for lunch the next day. See (okay, hear) you at Hackney’s –

Monna Ray On December 4, 2013 at 11:51 am

I loved your blog which I read today. I believe whoever we are, we are. And certainly a large part of who we are is due to the environment into which we were born and spent our early years. You continue to be an inspiration, Beth. Monna

maria On December 4, 2013 at 11:52 pm


I was on vacation, and on my return my computer did not work… I just read your inspirational blog tonight.

I think because FDR was intelligent, strong, and determined, did not let polio defeat him, and remained who he was… As one of eight children, I always knew you have the rich, inner qualities passed on to you not only by your extraordinary mom, but also by your older siblings, who gave a lot and from whom the youngest learns a lot…

Happy Holidays to you, your husband, and all tour family !

I miss your classes and your insightful, (another of your talents,) input.


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