22 Apr 2012
Blindness Brings Kindness
‘Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear,
an honest compliment - or the smallest act of caring: all of which have the potential to turn a life around’ Leo Buscaglia
When I carry my white cane, I feel as if I am performing on the grand stage of life. The audience is you, the baffled onlooker, watching my every firm step, and as I pass by, I feel curious stares. Once upon a time, I would not have held a white cane even to save my life, which it often does now, and the change of heart is due to the overwhelming kindness the magic cane has attracted from strangers in the street.
I feel a great sense of privilege, for in a busy city where one is not expected to make eye contact with strangers, where people walk around and either dodge each other’s paths or bluff for supremacy, who stare through windows on trains and who do not dare utter a word to a fellow traveler: my experience is richly different.
The magic cane speaks of acceptance and invites compassion and generosity of spirit: from mothers, from business men, from foreign tourists, from tram drivers, from waiters, from shop keepers and even from the odd drunk! Carrying the ‘magic cane’ is like holding a jeweled sceptre and feels as dignified as royalty (without the hounds of the paparazzi hot on one’s heels).
Out of the shadow of a grey city street, a friendly voice inquires, ‘Can I help you?’
Or a body sidles up close and gently touches my arm, ‘Do you need any help?’
In an instant, I have the unexpected aid of a total stranger and often I accept gladly, knowing how much easier it is to accept their practical and willing assistance. Their joyful tone assures me too, that their eagerness to help, brings a sense of fulfilment to their lives, even if only for a few brief minutes. Sometimes I have wondered if this is the purpose of my life: to show others how one can trust…how one can live with an open heart…and how for me, I must accept my life as it is, with some limitations, and ask for help when I need it.
When these interesting moments occur, I often write to tell my father.
Well another one of my comical adventures today! I made my way by tram into the city for my appointment with the dentist. I know that going out sounds like a simple task, but as I rely on the cane, I get nervous trying to find new places by myself. I have to expect the unexpected and that is not easy - bulky mattresses on the side of the footpath to avoid or having to find traffic lights without audible beepers.
Today, I successfully got off at the right stop just outside the dental hospital and, to save myself from unnecessary stress, I turned to ask a fast moving tourist for help to locate the entrance. He spoke with a German accent, Chris was his name (I thought they were all called Hans?). Then my helpful guide led me to the front door and disappeared. ‘Hey!’ I wanted to call out. ‘Don’t go so fast? Where do I go now?’
Too late. I had to walk gingerly forward, sweeping the cane in front of me until I bumped into something which I hoped would be the inquiry desk. What a guess – bingo!
I proceeded to enlist more help, this time from the obliging security guard who offered to walk with me through the maze of corridors, stairs and elevators, with people darting madly about. At this point I felt grateful for his cordial good-nature and close guidance.
We arrived calmly at the busy waiting room on level 4 where everyone gripped a piece of paper with a number on it. My ‘new friend’ took one for me and showed me to a seat.
‘Number twelve.’ That’s me!
I gave my name to the woman behind the glass window but to my surprise, my appointment is not noted in her computer. My dentist was apparently not expecting me and was with someone else for the rest of the afternoon.
‘You’ve got to be kidding?’ I protested. ‘He wrote it on a piece of paper.’
I am asked to sit back in the waiting room while the unimpressed secretary sorts out what to do next.
From my seat I am amused to hear the organized chaos of the hospital: nurses opening doors left right and centre, calling out names at random…patients arguing with the receptionist about their bill and complaining about being chased by the debt collector. One guy doesn’t want to wait in the queue any longer and gets stroppy with the security guard. He thinks his threats of leaving the building are going to upset the system? Get a life buddy, at least you’ve GOT an appointment!
I began to feel restless, with the prospect of sitting around for hours. To make my presence known again to the flustered receptionist, I plonked myself in the chair by her window. My plan was to simply reschedule another appointment. Horrified by my confidence in approaching without being called by my number, she demanded from the security guard,
‘What is this woman doing? She doesn’t have an appointment?’
I’m stunned. Why doesn’t she ask me directly? I’m only vision-impaired, not deaf.
Maybe the system got it wrong for a change?
The funniest part of it all was coming home on the tram. A considerate woman swiftly scooped up my folded cane placed on the seat behind me. She was about to hand it to the driver,
Hey, that’s mine!’ I said in amusement.
‘I’m so sorry.’ She said, ‘I thought a blind person must have left it behind.’
‘It’s not really something a blind person would forget,’ I giggled, ‘I need it to get off the tram!”
I think she was relieved that I couldn’t possibly see her blushing face - her embarrassed chuckle however, said it all…
‘All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on’ Havelock Ellis
Maribel Steel 2012