Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

Through the eyes of gratitude

By Michelle Martin
Assistant editor

John Erickson was between 12 and 16 when he lost nearly all his vision—the result of pressure from a fluid build-up in his brain.

The bond-buyer for J.P. Morgan Chase recalls having headaches and waiting months for a diagnosis, then having a shunt put in to relieve the pressure. That shunt eventually failed, as did several more. All the time, his visual world was shrinking until he had only blurry peripheral vision in his left eye.

But Erickson said he was never really bitter about it. When he couldn’t see well enough to ride a bike, his twin brother (Erickson is the eldest of five children—older by minutes than his twin) got a tandem bike. When he came home from one of many hospitalizations, his sisters had made a welcome home banner. Classmates he did not even know well stopped to see him. Fellow parishioners at St. Luke in River Forest prayed for him.

“It made me think, these people really care about me,” he said, “I’ve been very blessed.”

Then the summer he was 14, he went to the Lighthouse for the Blind to learn to read Braille. While he was there, he met a brother and sister who had never been able to see; they were born without eyes.

“It hit me how lucky I was,” said Erickson. “I got to ride bikes, play Little League, do all the fun stuff. It set me in the right perspective: Quit whining.”

Still, Erickson did not often pray for himself.

“I always thought God had better things to worry about than my eyesight,” Erickson said.

Erickson graduated from the University of Notre Dame and got an MBA from the university, then talked himself into a job as a bond buyer. “It was perfect, because it’s a lot of telephone work,” he said.

He is married with two children, one in high school and one starting college in the fall. He skis with the American Blind Skiing Foundation.

“People think immediately about all the things you can’t do,” Erickson said. “They don’t think about everything you can do.

People say they wouldn’t know how to do my job with my eyesight the way it is. I wouldn’t know either if I didn’t have to do it.” Erickson said he understands and appreciates the impulse people have to help him.

“I was waiting to cross a street here in the Loop once,” he said. “I was on my way to work and it was an intersection I crossed every day, so I knew how to do it. A woman came up to me and offered to help me across the street, and I said, ‘No thanks.’ And she just had this defeated tone her voice when she said ‘Oh, OK.’

“I thought then that maybe she’d worked up all her courage to offer a stranger help, and then I’d turned her down. So ever since then, if someone offers me help, I take it, even if I don’t really need it.”

The last three years, Erickson is facing a new challenge: hearing loss. But he continues to live in gratitude.

“I give God thanks for letting me do more than I ever dreamed,” he said.