Most people choose to share what they want others to know about them. This is not always the case with the blind. Now that I know I’m legally blind and carry a red and white cane, I’m part of their ranks. I’m told I must educate others about the capabilities and independence now possible for blind people. It will change the way people view us. Change does not come without sacrifice.
So, I personalize this mission and say how much I can do and what I need help with—usually in larger stores or airports when I actually need assistance. But in my hometown, I’m just like you. I value my privacy and I go about my business as anyone would. Or I try to.
Recently, I had someone test me in a way that I never witnessed before. In fact, I didn’t even know I was being tested until a document-holding PhD college professor educated me.
And even though I’m becoming color blind now, I could still see red!
Let me paint the scene for you…
“Come on, get out of the house! Don’t stew at home over your broken computer. Wash your sorrows away with a coke and chow down on some fries,” she joked.
“Maybe you’re right,” I agreed. “Sitting at home doesn’t cut it right now.”
“I’ll be by to pick you up in a few,” she promised.
We texted back and forth until we decided on McDs right around lunchtime.
I took my cane, though sometimes I can do without it in daylight. “It alerts others to the fact you have a problem,” my mobility instructor told me early on. “People will be more tolerant if you run into them.”
In McDs, Sue carries the tray to our table near the window. I lean my cane up against the wall. After a prayer, I dig into my cheeseburger and fries, and a fruit salad.
We chat about my computer frustrations and options. My friend loans me a laptop. With this offer, she wins my friendship forever. Even though I probably won’t use it. Just too difficult to see the print. To really get work done, I need my own computer. It’s all set up for my vision difficulties. But I love her for offering, and I accept.
That accomplished, we leave McDs.
My cane remains leaning against the wall, forgotten in the wake of this new laptop solution. I’m humming, thinking, “I might be able to use it – and get some work done after all.”
In the parking lot, I hear these words, “Miss, you forgot your cane!”
“Oh! Thank you, sir!”
I turn around and begin to retrace my steps to retrieve it.
“I’ll get it,” the little old man who brought it to my attention declares.
I let him bring it out to me. He opens the glass door, and extends his arm, cane in hand.
I reach for it but he doesn’t let go.
Suddenly, he tilts his head and makes a funny face.
I watch him. What an odd little man.
He tilts his head in the opposite direction and makes another face. He opens and closes his mouth.
What is he doing?
He hasn’t handed me my cane yet. I don’t know what to do so I smile.
The little old man juts out his head now and makes his eyes big.
I continue to watch him. He must have some problems. But how kind of him to bring my cane.
“Thank you for getting my cane.” I take it from the gentleman.
He then moves his finger back and forth a few inches from my face in a straight line.
I’m taken back. Best to just ignore this strange behavior. I smile once more.
“I might have tripped without it,” I say before turning to head toward the car.
Once in our vehicle, we giggle at the strange antics of the old man. Maybe he is senile.
A few days later, my PhD colleague cleared up the mystery.
He said straight away, “He was testing you. He wanted to know how much you could see.”
Immediately I bristled.
“Sure. I see it all the time on my campus.”
“People want to know what the blind can see. He was testing you.”
What?! That’s what the whole finger movement was all about?
“Why didn’t he just ask me?”
“Why didn’t you just tell him?” he was quick to respond. “You’re the one who left your cane.”
“What business is it of his how much I can or can’t see?” I said, very put out.
“It’s your duty to educate him. People just want to know. It’s no big deal.”
“Do you tell people you’re not married?”
I could imagine my friend rolling his eyes.
“We’re not talking about me.” he reminded.
That leaves me with some questions: why should a stranger test me in such a strange way? Why does the presence of a cane make that all right?
I must choose how I will respond to such idiocy and poor manners.
Next time I’ll know.
I’ll say, “How lovely to see your comical face up close!” That’s what I dream I’ll say.
But in reality, I’ll probably just thank him or her again.
I’m not sure I want to educate everyone I meet. It’s exhausting, quite frankly.
But now that my keyboard is working again, I can educate you.
If you see I’ve forgotten my cane, and if you have the energy and time, just hand it to me – no faces, no fingers, no toes, no stares, no mouth movements.
Simply hand me my cane and wish me a good day.
I might do a grateful jig. Even if I don’t, I’ll love you forever.
It’s enough for you to know I need a cane, ok?
Count your blessings.