Being Married to Brandon: “A Precious Exercise of Mindfulness”
By Claudia Zaghi-Biggs
When I met Brandon in September 2014, I thought that I was talking to the most interesting person I had ever met.
Not only was he the first American I had ever talked to, Brandon was also the opposite of the typical 20-something Italian: Not Catholic, vegetarian, mostly homeschooled, who preferred peanut butter over Nutella.
Besides the cultural diversities, I immediately liked his positive way of thinking, his unusual curiosity and his witty sense of humor.
Another particularity of Brandon was his blindness, which is actually the reason why we met.
I was giving a tour of my university, the University of Milano, Italy, for international students and I was asked to guide Brandon, who was there to study Italian for opera. Among a group of a hundred students, it would have been unlikely that I would have gotten to know any of them. Since Brandon was by my side, however, we had the chance to talk during the tour. And then we scheduled a date.
We were married two years later.
The last three years with Brandon have been quite a journey; we have been apart for several months, but we also managed to live in five countries and visit nine in total.
I have special memories for each of them, for example swimming in the crystal sea in Croatia for our honeymoon, walking through the Christmas markets in Vienna, visiting the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, making cheese on a Maltese farm, seeing “Matilda the Musical” in London. These are just a few of the unforgettable moments we have shared so far.
Currently, we are happily living on a houseboat on a little canal in the city of Groningen, Netherlands, where I am studying for my master’s in computational linguistics.
I consider living with a blind partner a precious exercise of mindfulness.
If I am alone, I walk in the street careful enough to be safe, but I am immersed in my thoughts, listening to music with my isolating headphones. When I am with Brandon, I acknowledge everything around me: people, buildings, colors, behaviors, my own emotions, and I feel that I am present in the moment.
At the same time, I acknowledge accessibility issues, which are a wide problem in south European countries. Sidewalks are too narrow, uneven or used for parking by cars. Also, street lights without sound effects or unsafe driving behaviors are a cause of frustration for me.
Previously I said that Brandon and I met because he was blind, which is not exactly the truth.
Brandon’s education, O&M (Orientation & Mobility) training, and his (now, also my,) incredible family have made him an independent, healthy and positive person, confident enough to decide to take a plane solo, cross the ocean and live abroad for one year to learn a new language.
Therefore, I am forever grateful to everyone who contributed to Brandon’s education. I am now happy to see Brandon helping his mum, Sonja, to build educational services that can have a significant impact on other young blind determined students.