“Maybe that goes hand in hand with his faith,” Farrow said. “He’s a person on a journey, and he has developed a stillness and a centered-ness that I wouldn’t have necessarily expected, because he was this bright, shining, super-ambitious leader. There’s an extraordinary arc to Cyrus.”
Habib’s parents immigrated to America from Iran. He was born here, their only child, and was still an infant when he received a diagnosis of retinoblastoma. His left retina was removed before his third birthday. In order to preserve the right one — and his vision — for as long as possible, he went through radiation and chemotherapy.
When he flashed back to that, he focused on his parents’ ordeal. “Hell is probably not dissimilar to walking into a pediatric cancer ward and seeing, as my parents had to, beds of kids lined up, each connected to an IV pump, and knowing your kid is going to be joining that.”
He also called himself lucky. Being able to see until he was 8, he said, let him amass a thick catalog of visual memories to rummage through later. But losing his sight in childhood rather than adulthood meant he was able to adapt while his brain was still plenty elastic.
“I learned Braille,” he said, “while other kids were learning cursive.”
He went to public schools in the Seattle suburbs, and his parents insisted that he not be treated differently than other children were. Habib has often told the story of how his mother, Susan Amini, responded when she learned that he was being kept on the sidelines of the school playground because he was blind and administrators worried that he’d hurt himself: She marched to the principal’s office, declared that she would teach him the layout of the playground and demanded that he be given full access to it from then on. A broken arm, she said, could be fixed more easily than a broken spirit.
Amini told me that she and her husband reasoned: “If you worry too much about a child, you become an obstacle. We decided not to make our fears his.”
Habib devoured popular fiction, serious literature and history, reading in Braille or listening to recordings. “Books allowed me to see — through the eyes of the author, the eyes of the narrator,” he said.