Last Thursday, I walked to work with a blind man. It was a relatively cold morning, for August anyways. My exposed legs felt a chill wrap around them as I walked up the steps from our parking garage, not-so-conveniently located six blocks away from work. I took a deep breath and was reminded once again of my fondness for the morning. I walked past my favorite little soup cafe, which already smelled of garlic and fresh herbs.
As I stepped up to the crosswalk, I noticed how especially busy the streets were, hustling and bustling more than usual. The light rail whizzed in front of me before the signal changed and it was safe to walk. Falling into a tiny sea of people, I crossed the street and put my sunglasses on, mentally creating a to-do list for the day. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a clattering sound behind me.
Clack. Clack. Clack.
I glanced over my shoulder and saw a blind man with a white cane coming straight towards me, sweeping his stick across the ground back and forth rapidly in front of him. By instinct, I jumped to the left out of his path. He sped right past me, and I watched in awe as he skated up the sidewalk with his cane. Curious and concerned, I quickly scurried up behind him, with my own clack clack clack of high heels. We walked together for one whole block, him leading and me following, my heart pounding with emotions. Ache. Sympathy. Gratefulness.
I thought of my friend Laura, who was recently diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that is slowly causing her to go blind. My heart hurt for her. She's one of the most beautiful girls, inside and out, that I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. I said a quick prayer for her and the blind man in front of me, and thanked God for giving me eyes that see.
Together, the blind man and I approached the second crosswalk. I fought the urge to throw my arm in front of him, before I knew for certain that he would stop abruptly at the curb and not walk into oncoming traffic. He walked so fast, and while simply watching him gave me anxiety, I had to admire his courage. He wasn't scared to walk, hesitating with each step. He walked with a purpose. Intention. Although he could not see, he knew exactly where he was going, as if refusing to live in fear. Standing there, side by side, I was overwhelmed with compassion and admiration for this blind stranger.
The signal changed and we kept walking, him leading and me following. I watched people stare at him, and wondered if he could feel them looking. I thought about my own two eyes, which are fully functioning, yet very poor in sight. I imagined myself walking up J street without my contacts, and how blurry everything would be. I've worn them for thirteen years and can barely see a foot in front of me without them. I tried to picture myself walking with a purpose, with nothing but a cane to protect me. As much as I'd like to believe I would be brave and fearless, the mere thought is terrifying.
As we approached the hotel, I noticed the man slowing down. Was he lost? Should I say something? It took me a moment to realize he was listening to the guys chatting at the valet stand. Once he realized he was in the right spot, he quickly turned right, hitting the door with his cane.
"Let me get that for you sir."
Eddie opened the door and I said good morning as I walked in behind the man. He was headed for the elevator, and I watched him put his hands on the walls, searching for the buttons. My heart hurt.
"Are you going up?" I asked him, desperately hoping he could hear the smile in my voice.
"Yes," he replied.
"Over here, I've got an elevator open."
He fumbled towards me, and again I fought the urge to simply grab his hand and lead him onto the elevator safely.
"Where you headed?" I asked.
He took his sunglasses off and looked right at me. I stared back, wondering what he saw.
I pushed three and seven, and watched the doors close.
"How are you doing today?" I asked.
"I'm okay," he replied. "It's been a whirlwind of a week."
Before I had time to think of something else to say, the elevator arrived at the third floor.
"This is my floor. Just a few more until seven, okay?"
"Okay, thank you very much," he said.
"You're welcome. Have a nice day..."
I stepped off the elevator and for the third time that morning, fought the urge to touch him. To hug him. To squeeze his hand and tell him that it was going to be okay. To tell him that God loves him and for all intents and purposes, I did too.
For the rest of the day I thought about my eyes, and how often I complain about my contacts, or joke about being blind without them. I felt guilty for taking something so precious for granted. Five days later, I can't stop thinking about that blind stranger. I'm not sure why, or what else I could have done or should have done to help him.
Come to think of it, maybe it wasn't my fate to help him at all.
Maybe it was his fate to help me.
To give me a little perspective, and remind me of how blessed I am to have eyes that see.