Let’s play a game: Imagine you’re on the phone with Johnny Carson.
No, the former “Tonight Show” host isn’t in heaven. Our game takes place more than three decades ago.
Johnny caught your nightclub act and he wants you to come on the show to entertain his nationwide audience. It’s a big deal: All those years of training and late-night gigs will finally pay off.
What do you feel? Vindication? Jubilation? Some combination of emotions impossible to name?
So it’s understandable if you don’t hear your infant daughter open the patio door.
But you hear her splash into the pool.
What do you feel?
It wasn’t a game for Tom Sullivan. He’s a singer, composer, actor and writer, and he’s been blind since a few days after his birth. The story is his; so is the child.
“I screamed her name. ‘Blythe! Blythe!’” he said. “I remember I got outside and I tripped over furniture and fell into the pool.”
He swam along the bottom, hoping his sense of touch could make up for his lost vision.
This is a man who’d learned to play baseball as a kid because he didn’t want blindness to stop him. He’d played football, and was a championship amateur wrestler. He’d learned the piano, and earned a degree from Harvard University.
None of his many achievements mattered that day in the pool.
“I remember that I looked up to heaven and said, ‘God, is this some horrible joke?’” he said.
Then he broke down.
“I started to cry, and I prayed for a miracle. I said, ‘God, if you give me this child back, I’ll live an exemplary life,’” he said. “Then there was a sound. You wouldn’t hear it, not because you couldn’t, but because you wouldn’t. I heard the sound of her air bubbles.”
He saved his daughter, and learned a lesson that he shared on Thursday with about 50 staff members of the Wesson and Mothershed Eye Center in Tupelo and one writer from the Mighty Daily Journal.
His early life was defined by dependence on others; then he focused – sometimes selfishly, he said – on fighting for independence; and on that emotional day, he learned the importance of interdependence, that our lives depend on the lives of others.
“The whole is the sum of all its parts, and greater than any one of them,” he said, recounting a geometry theorem.
He challenged Dr. Matt Wesson, Dr. Fred Mothershed and every member of their staff to work together toward the same mission: “To preserve vision and eliminate blindness.”
Sullivan’s days of appearing on TV with Johnny Carson are long gone, but he said his daughter, Blythe, “is a healthy, beautiful girl.”
Now, he’s an author and motivational speaker, and his a cappella rendition of “Danny Boy” proved he’s still very much a singer. It was a great pleasure to listen, and to shake his hand.
M. Scott Morris is a Daily Journal entertainment writer. Contact him at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal