There is a man. He wears a suit, he has a mop of grey curly hair, he’s probably in his early 70s or thereabouts. He is in my neighborhood but doesn’t live here. Like so many men in suits and women with their lunch and their shoes in a shoulder bag, he works in the courthouse across the street from me. I see him coming into work on some days and leaving on others.
His most distinguishing feature is not the hair or the suit. He is blind. And my neighborhood does not see many blind people walking nearby.
The first time I helped him cross the street, he chastised me for coming toward him to assist him walking me back where I started. I told him I was just on my way home and that I considered myself lucky I could get him off my conscience and all it meant was I would be walking across the same street twice. I meant what I said, even though it sounds glib to me now that I write this. I never could have known rest if I hadn’t taken his arm and offered him some help.
The next time, I was again walking toward him but I tried to be less chatty, more helpful.
This morning, I saw him again and I realized that it’s not just that he can’t see that makes me want to help him but that he must be new to being blind. He started to cross the street when the light changed but stopped, unsure if it would be safe and then started so tentatively I found myself putting my arm around his shoulder to guide him to the opposite side of the intersection. I told him it was a sunny day but likely to be pretty humid, all in all. He laughed when I said, “But you’ll probably be in air conditioning all day, right?” He smiled and continued on toward the door into the side entrance of the courthouse.
Sight is a damn gift.
I’ve been thinking about this since I learned a few days ago that my most quoted, most important, most looked up to high school teacher is now also blind. I read French because of her. I speak French because of her. I wanted to be a better person because of her and it breaks my heart to learn this, even though I have not seen her in over 50 years. What cruelty the gods dispense.
There is another man that I see at church from time to time. He comes in with his guide dog and sits near me. I watched him struggle to receive communion because of the way the aisles in this church run. They are not straight but they angle to the left at the front and his dog had trouble maneuvering. By the time I realized what was happening, that part of the service had ended. Another woman and I alerted the priest so he could take communion after Mass. Ever since, she and I have smiled and chatted a bit. We both look after him now. He wears a watch.
If I were to lose this damn gift I would lose so much it hurts even to think about it. I would not be able to read, something I do all day. I would not have the courage of either of these men to step outside my house and try to cross the street, let alone work in an office, which my neighborhood friend must be doing, given his clothes and the hours he keeps. I cannot imagine getting on the subway, hailing a cab – I would need you to help me do even the smallest things, like shop for food and cook dinner. Or go to church. And I think of how often I pay no heed to the fact that I do have this damn gift and so many others.
I want to walk for those who cannot, I want to speak out for those who cannot, I want to stand up and hear and see for anyone who cannot or will not. And even though I realize fully I could also lose this gift, I will probably forget to be grateful again tomorrow – until I see this man on his way to the courthouse. This newly blind man. Who is braver than me.