Guiding with Grace

On an overcast afternoon, the car pulls to a stop in front of the bright diagonal lines and the short sidewalk. I open my door, unfold my cane, and trail the car—keeping my hand against it until I reach the right passenger door. There, I hear the familiar clicks of another cane unfolding as Henry, waiting next to his open door, prepares to move forward. I stand before him, and he places his left hand on my right shoulder.

I walk across the diagonal lines and onto the sidewalk, feeling the curb bumps beneath my feet and Henry’s warm hand lightly gripping my shoulder. With each step, I swing my cane to cover the space before the opposite foot. I hear Henry’s cane moving in tandem with mine; our combined arcs clear the ground as we progress smoothly.

We traverse a short sidewalk, avoiding students and signs, and pass the library. As we walk by the library entrance, the automatic doors slide open with a cool metallic hiss. I angle left, choosing a wider path free from bike racks and bistro tables. Henry follows behind me, a seamless extension of my space.

Henry and I amble through Starbucks, where the crowd of coffee-drinkers and narrow path force us to turn sideways. We walk up the sloping sidewalk to the elevator and negotiate the range of doors and quick turns that lead to my office. There, a cacophony of clicking signals two cane-users putting away the implements of their independence.

Later, we reverse the journey and encounter the daunting onslaught of students rushing to their late afternoon classes. I lead Henry down the sloping sidewalk, onto the elevator, along the crowded path that opens into a sea of columns, and through the chaos of Starbucks. We pass the library’s large brick columns and angle left, coming around the corner of the library. As we round the corner and students step out of our way, I realize I am enacting a popular phrase.

I’m a blind woman guiding a blind man. It’s the blind leading the blind.

Coming around that corner by the library, I am surprised by a wave of pride. I can’t say I’m a “sighted guide” because that isn’t true, but this is the first time I’ve ever guided someone. So I’m a blind guide—is such a thing possible? I reflect on the smoothness of our mobility and reason that it is. Well, what do you know?! We’re overturning clichés!

And quite successfully, I think to myself. We reach the waiting car and find our seats.

However, my pride does not arise solely from our success. Rather, I’m proud—and delighted—to be guiding Henry. Because this is my campus, the area in which I’m the most confident traveler, I realize that I’m the conduit between Henry and the physical environment. I get to be the one to show him where things are. I get to lead him around! I feel privileged, important—not because I’m showing off but because of who I’m showing off.

Thanks to my mom, I know that people observe me as I travel. After a day of running errands, Mom often tells me about the people who watch us moving together. Because Mom is my most frequent guide, her assistance feels natural and intuitive. She says that, when we’re walking, people often stare at us, openly curious, trying to understand how we move together. “It’s usually when we’re cracking up,” she says happily. “I smile at them. We look like we’re having a blast.”

I wonder what people think when they see Henry and me, moving purposefully and effortlessly across campus. What is the sighted impression of two blind individuals traveling as one cohesive unit—each cane widening the other’s scope?

When I think of myself as Henry’s guide, as an ambassador in this unfamiliar environment, I marvel at my own good fortune. I have spent my life being guided, but now I am guiding—introducing a remarkable person to the space before me. If onlookers perceive a fraction of my feelings, then our travels will be an enjoyable vision. They will see my delight and confidence, my sense of personal worth, my eagerness to show Henry to the world and the world to Henry.

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