The boy who sees without eyes, whose faith inspired. Blind Elk Grove teen Ben Underwood captivated the world when he used ‘clicking’ or echolocation to see.
Ben’s amazing story began years before he was born. Now five years after his death, the woman who gave Ben the strength to persevere is revealing lessons learned from her blind son.
His life was a miracle. Ben was only two years old when he lost his eyes to cancer, but he had a unique way of seeing the world. He used clicking or echolocation, much the same way dolphins communicate. Clicking would tell Ben how far or close an object was. His ability and his attitude inspired and his story shared over and over.
Ben’s story began not with his struggle, but with his mother Aqua Gordon and her turbulent life.
Aqua grew up poor. She became addicted to crack, homeless, became a single mom with five children, all who were taken away. When she got them back, Aqua was on welfare, at times working two jobs to stay afloat. Aqua says, “I thank God for those experiences because they do make me the person I am today. I think that those experiences were preparing me for Ben.”
Then Ben came into her life and changed it.
She said, “We’ve given up our rights to ourselves. So it was time for me to wake up and do what I needed to do to take care of my children no matter what it took.”
While many would collapse under the weight of caring for a blind child, Aqua thrived. So did Ben.
“My thing was that Ben was going to experience life,” said Aqua. “He was going to see the world the best way he could.”
It wasn’t unusual to see Ben riding his bike to school, roller blading – doing what seeing kids took for granted.
“I didn’t expect him not to be a kid. You only get it once and I wanted him to enjoy life and enjoy his childhood as much as he possibly could,” Aqua said.
She even said Ben’s blindness blessed him in some ways, giving him vision beyond sight.
“He said ‘Mom, you know people look at each other and judge what they look like. He said ‘man, people need to start to see one another.’”
Ben went on to speak around the world, sharing his outlook and his clicking. Just when it seemed things were looking up for him, Ben’s cancer returned and the family faced yet another battle.
Aqua said, “I learned so much from him just about living, and not just living. And not just living, I learned from Ben about dying.”
Ben died in 2009. He was buried on what would have been his 17th birthday. In her grief, Aqua was able to celebrate his life. In a testament to his influence, 2,000 people bid farewell, including close friend Stevie Wonder.
Even in his death, Ben lives on, now through a book Aqua wrote with Sacramento Bee writer Chris Macias.
In Echoes of an Angel, we discover this is more than Ben’s story.
Macias said, “Ben would not have been who he was without his mom really behind him, guiding him and encouraging him when other people sometimes wouldn’t.”
Five years after his death, perspective about why Ben was born blind and why he left too soon. That it is possible to live a full life, even if it you can’t see it, even if it’s only for 16 years.
Aqua said, “His life wasn’t even for him, it was for others. And he exemplified hope and what we all can have if we trust that everything we need is in you.”