What I learned after I let a blind man fall

There’s a title I never expected to write. 

Today I helped a blind man cross the street in the rain.

By all accounts I should be guaranteed access to heaven.

However as I happily chatted him up while holding his elbow in my hand, distracted by the fast pace of the white tip of his walking stick tapping left, right, left, right, I forgot to mention to mention to him that we were at the curb and before I could say anything useful I was watching his ankle roll and he was falling and I said two of the dumbest words I have uttered in my entire life, “Look out!”

Do you know what happens when a blind man falls? Nothing. Not a damn thing. He doesn’t reach for something to break his fall or see that one angle is safer than an other. He just falls. My words “Look Out!” are still ringing my head a few hours later along with the image of him cracking into a telephone pole and sort of slumping down to the wet sidewalk while I pull at his coat and try to slow his collapse.  I looked up just enough to catch the driver of the car stopped at the cross walk shake his head at me in disgust. 

As I pull him up he was so gracious and calm. I just ramble apologies and begin a series of embarrassed overly dramatic facial expressions (I’m Italian, it’s what we do) which takes me a moment to realize my main method of communication is through my face which is not serving any good at this moment so try to speak kindly and put it all my voice. I feel like it failed.  The man, once upright and made completely uncomfortable by what I now realize was my inappropriate mothering (straightening his coat, brushing off his pants, etc) gave me a nervous laugh and managed to leave on his own at quite an impressive speed, not doubt trying to put distance between the two of us.

I walk back to my car thankful he does not know what I look like and that I have not given him my name and that my voice doesn’t sound quite right and is sort of raspy like Kathleen Turner due to a cough the last few days.  You see this man frequents “my” coffee shop, the one I go to sometimes three times a day and I know I will see him again and when I do I will be silent so he doesn’t recognize my voice and know the woman who let him fall into a telephone pole is there.

So now I am home after meeting a client and I am sitting here thinking:

‘Let a blind man fall’ — Check.  Glad that is off my bucket list.

I feel like an ass. Who does that?  Mostly I feel like a failure for letting a blind man who trusted me, a seeing woman, wipe out on the sidewalk in the rain. And then it comes to me, “…wow, I used to be the blind man.”

Let me explain, I do see this man often downtown and he has crossed successfully every other time but today in the rain I was worried for him because it was slick and he seemed to have lost his bearings a bit and was beginning to cross way outside of the crosswalk. So when I approached him and asked him if he needed help he was reluctant at first and then he said he could use a little nudge in the right direction and before he knew it I swooped in and grabbed his elbow and began to lead him in a different direction.

You see so many times in my life I felt I knew the way, even though I couldn’t see it.  I would timidly begin in one direction only to retreat, linger maybe a bit too long at the edge of something new. I am sure to the outsider I looked very, very confused and in need of help. Inevitably some “good samaritan” would show up in my world and offer to show me the way.  Someone who seemed to know more than me, have more than me, be better equipped than me would show up and offer some help and there I was, teetering, unsure of my own next steps and unable to articulate where I wanted to go and the “someone” would take that as a cue that I was lost, incapable, needy, malleable, in need of a leader and before I knew it they were taking my arm and dragging me along a route that didn’t feel right for me. 

I would ignore my intuition and follow, blindly, this person who seemed somehow more than me because they claimed to know THE way.  And then when I expressed resistance, a desire to go my own way, a need to explore off the path dictated by books and experts, when I actually told them all I needed was a bit of their guidance and unconditional support during that time of struggle, of falling, when it was important, when I fell, they were gone. I was dropped. It was immediate. It was harsh. It was unexpected. I felt I had nothing to grab onto.

The blind man had every reason to believe that with me, his sighted-guide holding his arm, he was safe.  His assumption was like one I had made countless times before in my own life: I am with a man so I will be safe; I am with someone who purports to know more about my business than me so I will succeed; I am with someone who has success but who doesn’t understand me, I will quiet my real gifts and talents and follow their proven, dull way; I am with someone who has done this longer than me they must know better; that person has a bigger house, a newer car, fancier friends, more money, and on and on it goes.

You see just like I very literally demonstrated with the blind man today, no one can get you from point A to point B in the darkness better than you can.

No one.

And while help and guidance is great beware of the person (like me, today) who swoops in and takes you by the arm and wants to lead you to a new destination all together because that is when you are likely to fall. And when you do fall, that person who was pulling you along their path might not bother to pick you up once they realize you are no longer going along with them.

So instead, be brave, it’s okay to teeter on the edge, it’s okay to go slowly into the unknown and the darkness and it’s even okay to accept help BUT you must set clear expectation with the person you accepting help from; tell them what you need, where you want to go and how you want to get there.  Because if you don’t, they will likely take misunderstand your taking the time to sort things out and make your own way as confusion and inability and take you quickly along their own path where your goals and best interests will get lost along the way.