Two more articles in the Democrat! Lighthouse of the Big Bend honors Owen McCaul for inspiring others Owen McCaul received the Inspirational Community Member Award at Lighthouse of the Big Bend’s Paula Bailey Dining in the Dark benefit . The annual award recognizes someone who has the ability to invoke positive emotion and action in others. A nonprofit since 1983, Lighthouse of the Big Bend provides free services for people who are legally blind in 11 counties. McCaul has been an Assistant State Attorney in Leon County for 22 years. “Though Owen has never had perfect vision or been able to drive, that hasn’t stopped him from more than adequately providing for his family and striving for excellence in serving in our judicial system and community,” Lighthouse of the Big Bend board member Sila Miller wrote in nominating McCaul. “He is an avid reader, keeping up with current affairs through the newspaper and Internet, involved and concerned with his children’s school environment, his community, church, and actively serves the less fortunate. “Owen tirelessly advocates for safe and reliable public transportation and works hard to get honest answers and bring out the sometimes unpopular truth.” McCaul was appointed to the board of trustees of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in 2006 and currently serves as vice chairman. He and his wife Erica have two children, Trisha and Ian. Writer gets a taste of Dining in the Dark 11:58 PM, Oct. 5, 2011 Purchase Image Elizabeth Mack / Democrat By Elizabeth M. Mack Democrat staff writer It's one thing to close your eyes to be in the dark and see nothing. Once you open them again, there's light and your sight has returned. It's something else to close your eyes, open them and it's still dark. It makes you think: What would you do if your entire world was like constantly walking around in a pitch-black room? I got a small taste of that thanks to Lighthouse of the Big Bend and its annual Paula Bailey Dining in the Dark event — a fundraiser for the organization that also brings those with sight a deeper perspective on what it is like for those who are visually impaired. When I had determined I wanted to go, I was excited. But on the day of the event, I realized more and more that the idea of not seeing anything and eating a three-course meal made me really nervous. Yet, the anticipation of seeing how the nonprofit pulls off the event each year drove my curiosity to go through with it. The Lighthouse was gracious enough to offer a "dining in the dark" training before the dinner. I watched a volunteer from the audience, practicing with her eyes closed, season her food with pepper, believing it was salt. After watching I decided that I would not be seasoning my food for the dinner. Guests were escorted table by table to the University Center Club ballroom from the ground floor. As we rode to the ballroom level, it seemed as though everyone onboard the elevator had jitters. And once the door of the elevator opened it was dark — but not completely. However, once I and the others were lined up, holding the shoulder of the person in front of us, we made our way to the ballroom, where it was absolutely dark. It's hard to describe closing and opening your eyes, even squinting, and still seeing virtually nothing but maybe the faint glow from a watch. It's even harder describing the various feelings of not being able to see. Through the meal, I felt uncomfortable. I had to constantly reach out and touch the hand of my guest to help me feel at ease. Melinda Soto, account executive for national and major accounts for the Tallahassee Democrat, was also at the table. She described her experience as feeling isolated and disorientated. "I've never felt more isolated," she said. "Everyone seemed so distant. But certainly my attention seemed better, making the conversations feel more intimate." It is said that when one sense is lost, another is heightened. However, I still don't know if that is true. To me, sound was coming from everywhere, I was facing the wrong direction while listening to the speaker and I thought I was just eating steak, when it turned out I was also eating chicken. It seemed the process of eating without sight required, for one, a lot of patience. But you have to be very involved. I learned that after a few stabs with the fork, it was totally OK that I used my finger to spread butter on my roll and hands to scoop my salad onto my fork and eat my dessert. "I'll let you in on a little secret," said Jada Michaels, keynote speaker at the event, who lost her sight 12 years ago due to a brain tumor. "If I come up empty after three stabs with the fork, I use my hands." Through this experience, I can't say that being visually impaired is not something that I fear any less than before. I remember when the dinner ended and the lights were turned on, I felt a sense of comfort in seeing again. Eating without sight for just those couple of hours was such a struggle. It's something I would not like to do every day. But the reality is some people don't have a choice. I left that evening having a new level of respect for those that are living in a world they can't see. I was in a controlled environment, but the world is not like that. And I believe those without sight are truly brave for conquering it each day.