When the knife slipped out of the loop and into my right eye, I didn’t feel any pain. But I knew my life would never be the same.

Me before I had my first prosthetic eye

I was nine years old, sitting on the curb in front of our house in a small town in California. My buddies and I were making whips out of ropes. Mine had a knot on the end and I wanted it off. I took out my little pen knife, looped the end of the rope in my hand and started sawing at the knot. I had been taught all about knife safety, and initially I cut pointing away from myself. But I was in a hurry. I was losing out on the fun. I got careless.

Looking back over the years since, I realize that this event was a defining moment that would impact the rest of my life in so many ways. Here are just a few of the many things I learned from the experience.

1. I have amazing parents. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I fully realized how difficult it must have been for my parents. I spent months in the hospital over the next couple of years. The incredible emotional and financial toll was something they never indicated to me. Once I was finally fit with a prosthetic eye and life began to return to normal, they refused to treat me as if I had a handicap. The doctors insisted I should be protected from the dangers of the loss of depth perception that resulted from losing an eye. I probably wouldn’t be able to ride a bike or climb trees like the other kids. But my parents refused to allow me to believe that I was limited by my loss. They encouraged me to run and play like the other kids and, as a result, I adapted very quickly.

2. You are what you believe. I didn’t fully realize how fortunate I was until I began meeting other people who had lost eyes and noticed how differently it had defined them. When I was 13 I met a fellow student at school who had lost an eye as a child. His “handicap” was his license to fail at everything. He used it as an excuse to get out of PE, field trips and physical activity of almost any kind– and his parents encouraged this. While his parents wrote notes excusing him from hiking, sports, swimming and camp, my parents were buying me a unicycle (which I learned to ride) and pushing me out the door to go explore the mountains and rivers with my Huckleberry Finn brother.

3. There is always a silver lining. It didn’t take me long to realize having an eye that could be taken out had it’s benefits. Popping it out to scare the girls became a favorite pastime and it wasn’t long before all my buddies wished they had one. I found all sorts of ways to have fun with it. Hide and Seek became a whole new game when I could take out my eye and look around corners or behind things and say, “I found you!” It wasn’t long before my friends and family learned not to ask things like, “can you keep an eye on my purse while I go to the bathroom?” or “could you keep an eye out for…” because I might just take them literally. I have mellowed out a lot over the years but will still oblige when my kids bring their friends home and ask me to take my eye out for them.

4. The ingenuity of man. With each new eye that is made for me, I am more impressed by the ingenuity of man. The process of making prosthetic eyes is a real art. They are hand painted, with tiny paint brushes, to look almost exactly like my other eye. There are only a hand full of specialists in the world who are able to do it, and my ocularist, John Hadlock, is one of the best!

5. Life is full of dichotomies. A friend once asked me, “Have you ever thought of how odd it is that you are a one-eyed camera man?” Up to that point, I hadn’t, but as I thought about it, I realized the significance. One might assume that having one eye would be a deficit as a filmmaker. I did at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that television and movies are a two-dimensional format and I live in a two-dimensional world. I began noticing that I set up my shots to create an illusion of depth by how I positioned the subject in relation to foreground and background elements. It hit me that the loss of my eye actually made me better at my job!

One of my greatest life lessons is that we can gain from a loss. Given the right response, any tragedy can be turned into an opportunity.

Have you any stories of lessons learned from loss? Share them with me in the comments below.