real life

Meet the man who's been blind for half a century.

The word ‘inspirational’ gets thrown around way too much these days.

When someone sings a song well on a talent show, the celebrity judges call it inspirational. When a dog finds its way home over a long distance, the clickbait headline says it is inspirational. When a footballer kicks a goal, the commentator declares it inspirational.

In many ways, the word inspirational means less than it used to, less than it should. But the man I am talking to on Wednesday night on The Weekly is the definition of inspiration.

Maurice Gleeson. (Image via The Weekly.)

Maurice Gleeson is blind and has been for half a century. The way it happened was in equal parts accidental and freakish — but it was his run of bad luck after he lost the ability to see that could jolt even the most cynical of us into some perspective.

Similar catastrophes would take the lives of one of his brothers and his parents and leave his remaining brother also blind. Among all that loss, of sight and life, Maurice lost his world and the will to live.

Listen: Grandmother Helen Fuller is someone who sets an example for all of us. (Post continues after audio.)

But to hear Maurice tell the story of how he somehow rediscovered his love for life and managed to share that love with others on his way to being awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia is simply that – inspirational. The kind of inspirational that makes you stop making excuses for yourself and motivates you to make the most of everything you have in this world.

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It’s a motivation Maurice shares by, among other things, running sports programs for the vision impaired.

Last week I had a go at playing blind tennis and let me tell you, it is extraordinarily difficult. From the moment I put on the goggles that would block all of my vision I felt lost. The sounds around me became amplified and chaotic, disorienting and distracting me from the simple task of hitting the ball back over the net — a task, I soon learned, that was nearly impossible.

Charlie had the pleasure of meeting Maurice Gleeson. (Image via The Weekly.)

I could barely find the ball on the ground to pick it up and serve it, let alone hit it with a backhand as it came toward me. In an hour I successfully hit one shot. I certainly had none of the sporting success I enjoyed as a kid; it was all very unfamiliar.

What was familiar, though, was the easy company of those I played with; that acceptance and belonging that is almost unique to sport. Personified by Maurice shouting encouragement from the sidelines.

It all reminded me of the abundance of a lucky childhood - the days that seem to last for decades and the moments seem to last forever.

Maurice Gleeson gives that feeling to people who may well have forgotten they ever knew it, if they were lucky enough to know it at all. And made me feel pretty lucky just to be able to chat to him and share his stories with others.

Charlie Pickering is the host of The Weekly and talks with Maurice Gleeson OAM this Wednesday at 9.30pm on ABC.

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