Tom Sullivan is an accomplished author, producer, actor, singer and inspirational speaker. His life has been made even more remarkable by the fact that he has accomplished so much and is completely blind, and has been since birth. Sullivan is the author of the new book, "As I See It: My View from the Inside Out."
Where does your remarkable attitude come from?
When I'm asked why I'm such a positive person, it actually starts from adversity. My father [was told by ophthalmologist] was to put [me] in an institution; when a parent hears that, they're devastated … First he put me in a school for the blind, but it's isolated from the world. Then he built an 8-foot fence to keep me safe- my world was limited to living behind those fences but what I wanted was the world that I heard on my radio.
"Why am I in here? Why is that out there?" I would ask myself. My first engagement with God and miracles was when two little boys moved in right next door- Billy has been my best friend for 50 years now. I used to hear them playing baseball. The only thing between them and me was the fence, and anybody can climb a fence. On May 8, 1957, I grabbed the fence, stood on top, leaped into space and crashed into the ground.
Billy looked at this boy on the ground and said, "Boy, that was a gnarly fall!" Then he looked at me and said, "Wanna play?" So in my mind, he was the first of God's messengers. I had broken out and what did I get for it- a reward, a best friend. So it started there.
Who have been other messengers in your life?
All through my life there have been messengers like Billy. Scripture and theology argue whether God places things in our path. Is He manipulating us or providing options? I like to think that He provides options, and in my case, I was blind but now I see. My next messenger was a music teacher who came into my life and knew that I wanted to play jazz and rock instead of classical pieces. He also knew that I was angry about being blind.
In the school for blind kids I was the best of everything, but on weekends, when I would come home, the only kid who would play with me was Billy. If I am the best at being blind and suck at being blind, where do I fit in? This teacher invited me over to play piano at his house, for friends.
One friend asked why I was so angry at the world. I unloaded, gave him a bunch of crap as to why I was angry at the world.
"Wouldn't you be better off celebrating your talent?" he asked. "Wouldn't you be better off sharing your gifts with people, that you were put here for a purpose? By the way, I am Martin Luther King."
Describe your philosophy towards beauty and how that has affected your life.
The next messenger was Patti, my Patti. We've been married for 43 years. She has a powerful, powerful faith and the concept for this book comes from her. She's beautiful, externally, but it was the internal beauty that got me. True beauty is internal because someone is expressing it internally, and that's when, through Patty, I started to think about this philosophy: I've never met an ugly person unless they wanted to be. I've never dealt with labels- they mean nothing to me. I've enjoyed a world of senses, four of them that some people never, ever appreciate.
What's one conclusion you've come to through your experiences?
I've come to the conclusion that through the messenger and the Word, and our experience, God has given us enough grace to make us who we are. Philosophically, I decided that the best thing that ever happened to me is that I am blind. I would have been living in Boston, a lawyer, doctor or teacher and had a fine life, but I wouldn't have written 14 books, 90 TV show series, a movie about my life … wouldn't have spoken to 4,000-5,000 corporations. I was born in 1947- had I been born three years before that, I would have been dead: no incubators. Three years later, I would have been able to see.
This is the best use of Tom Sullivan, your instrument.
At the highest point of my young life, a phone call and request from Johnny Carson, I also faced the greatest challenge, my daughter falling into a pool. The ironic nature of that day … placed in my circumstance, He was a messenger. When I prayed for a miracle, and God provided the miracle but not because He pulled her out, but because an ordinary young man found her by listening to her air bubbles … I became convinced of God's miracles. We all can do extraordinary things, even if we don't call them miracles.