Tonight I was waiting for the walk signal when I heard some commotion to my right. I turned to see a group of six people, all forming a single file line, with their left hands on the shoulders of the next except the front two who had walking sticks. These six were all blind. It was literally the blind leading the blind.
It isn’t unusual to see the blind in New York, especially on 23rd. Selis Manor, a 14 story residence for the visually impaired, sits between Sixth and Seventh Avenues and its residents navigate the streets with the aplomb of sighted city dwellers. I have a blind acquaintance that lives in the building who puts my running ability to shame with the many marathons he has run. In fact, José’s perception is so attune that you’d not know he was blind if it weren’t his white cane or guide dog.
What is unusual is seeing a group lined in a row, a full two long avenues west of Selis Manor, making an effort to cross the street together. They had apparently just deboarded the Access-A-Ride bus, the City’s paratransit system that operates to help those with disabilities for whom the subway and standard buses are not easily accessible (though I’m constantly surprised at the amount of blind passengers on the subways). The bus driver, who was also on the corner, did not help them get wherever they were going. And, from all appearances, the group preferred it that way.
Such an encounter would hardly prompt me to write an essay. If I wrote a piece for every highly unusual thing I saw, I’d not have much time for much else. This city, for all its legend and pomp, and in all its supposed scrubbed-clean-Giuliani-Bloomberg glitz, is still a uniquely strange place to live. No, it wasn’t the group of six visually impaired people holding on to each other to get where they were going that led me to write, though that is truly a remarkable thing to happen upon.
New Yorkers are notorious for their hurried pace, the seeming speed with which they move to get from one place to the next. There's a determination in their eyes and God help the person that unknowingly gets in their way or slows their step. It's a tough city, and its occupants are hardened to fighting their way to get where they're going. The word ‘joy’ would scarce be used to describe a typical New Yorker on a typical commute.
When the two leaders with their white canes both ran into the same trash can at the same time, the group erupted in laughter.
When they realized they needed to navigate around a light pole, the group heaped words of encouragement and instruction, one to the other.
And each of the six did each of these things smiling, holding on to each other, never once snapping or moaning, never once with a hint of giving up.
I know that at any given second in any given morning can turn on nothing more than a funny look from a stranger. I know that when I ruminate on my life, my ruminations dwell in the messy spots, on all that is wrong, on all I don’t yet have or haven’t yet experienced. The money is never enough, the friends are too superficial, the loves too shallow, the needs too great.
And finally, be grateful for the dark corners. Because there you see glorious, illuminating joy etched on the faces of a wonder filled few for whom a guiding light is seen, not with their eyes, but with their hearts.