May 22, 2013

A red and white walking stick

He's always on my morning train to Boston: elderly, slim, suited, blind. Most days our arrival at the Waltham station times such that I board a few paces behind him. His wife (presumably) is younger and guides him to the steps by his elbow, always taking her leave with an affectionate kiss and cheerful wish that he has a great day. 

I've noticed that she always dresses in bright colors. Resisting the temptation of a trite analogy about relieving the darkness he can see with color that he can't ......and failing. It seems comment worthy after all.

The passenger closest at hand in the train usually guides the gentleman to an empty seat, either verbally or with instinctively discreet touch. Today's helpful passenger had a cognitive stumble over left vs. right and our vision impaired friend spent a short time attempting to sit on an arm rest. It was quickly rectified with minimal discomfort and discomfiture to all parties. 

On the Boston end, it's usually a middle-aged lady from our train who either rushes up or drops behind to assume that gentle, guiding-elbow grip. The short-stepped, careful walk to the tapping of the red and white walking stick morphs smoothly into long, smooth strides as our Blind friend finds assurance. She invariably breaks into an easy and congenial patter of small talk. At least for the length of the platform that I walk alongside them. We typically head in different directions once we reach the terminal. I've been his elbow gripping guide once or twice as well and have tried not to  demand small talk from him for my help. But she seems like an old friend and it doesn't seem entirely unwelcome.

I don't think it remarkable that a blind person navigates daily commuting.

My surprise comes, rather, from this evidence that our societal symbiosis is so deeply ingrained that every day, in this increasingly isolated and isolating world, strangers step out of their bubbles so easily in service to their Humanity. The terror and dismay in our world lately has been creating this image of a rather indifferent world where people visibly have more time and interest for their portable devices than each other, where troubled souls simmer and fall-apart in dark societal crevices, where rage and disappointment find outlet in either passive hostility, indifference or active, almost-casual violence. At least for me. I suspect for many others who are similarly assaulted by tragedy close to home: in the past 6 motnhs I've lost my father-in-law, young cousin sister (mom to my 2 little nephews), had a school shooting in a neighboring state, a bombing in my city and a manhunt that had me terrifided in a lockdown at home. It's little wonder.

That people still respond to their instincts selflessly, is reassuring to me right now. My continued faith in human decency makes me unwilling to applaud this basic standard of behaviour and glorify it unnecessarily.

But I feel I ought to anyway. It's not all dark out there, even when it seems like it might be.
It only takes some looking to See.

I was massaging my forehead in the car as he buckled in for the drive to school.
Oyon: Are you angry at me Mummum?
Me: No kiddo. My head hurts, that's all. Allergies, I think.
Oyon: Oh. The best thing is to think of something. Your brain is very close to your forehead so it will distract you from the pain.
Me: Good idea. Thanks.
Oyon: Yeah, but don't do it if your tummy aches. Your stomach is too far from the brain for it to work. I've tried.

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