THE BLIND MAN

THE BLIND MAN

From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

The Blind Man

Growth means change and change involves risks, stepping from the known to the unknown.

George Shinn

Buses, trains, airplanes and airports offer a safe haven for strangers to divulge intimate stories, knowing that they will probably never see one another again. Such was the case on this day in the spring of 1983 at La Guardia Airport. I was waiting for my plane when a tall, strong, handsomely tailored gentleman felt safe enough in his anonymity to sit next to me and share the following story:

“I was finishing up my work at my office in downtown Manhattan. My secretary had left about a half hour before, and I was just getting ready to pack up for the day when the phone rang. It’s Ruth, my secretary. She’s in a panic. ‘I’ve left an important package on my desk by mistake. It needs to be immediately delivered to the Blind Institute. It’s only a few blocks away. Could you help me out?’

“‘You caught me at a good time; I was just walking out the door. Sure. I’ll drop the package off for you.’

“As I walked into the Blind Institute, a man ran toward me. ‘Thank heaven you arrived. We must get started at once.’ He pointed to an empty chair next to him and told me to sit down. Before I could say anything, I was sitting in a row of people who were all sighted. Directly facing us was a row of sightless men and women. A young man, about 25 years old, stood in front of the room. He began giving us instructions.

“‘In a moment, I will ask those of you who are sightless to get to know the person seated across from you. It will be important for you to take whatever time you need to distinguish their features, hair texture, bone type, rate of breathing and so forth. When I say ‘begin,’ you will reach across and touch the person’s head, feel the texture of their hair, note if it is curly, straight, coarse or thin. Imagine what color it might be. Then slowly place your fingers on their brow. Feel the strength, the size, the texture of the skin. Use both hands to investigate the eyebrows, eyes, nose, cheekbones, lips, chin and neck. Listen to the person’s breathing. Is it calm or rapid? Can you hear the heart beating? Is it fast or slow? Take your time—and now, begin.’

“I began to panic. I wanted out of this place. I don’t allow anybody to touch me without my permission, let alone a man. He’s touching my hair. God, this is uncomfortable. Now his hands are on my face; I’m perspiring. He’ll hear my heart beating and know I’m panicking. Got to calm down, can’t show him that I’m not in control. I felt a sigh of relief when it was finally over.

“‘Next,’ the young instructor continued, ‘the sighted people will have the same opportunity to discover the person seated across from them. Close your eyes and imagine that you have never seen this person in your life. Decide what you want to know about this person. Who are they? What are their thoughts? What kind of dreams might they have? Reach across and begin to touch their head. Feel the texture of their hair. What color is their hair?’

“His voice faded in the background. Before I could stop, I had my hand on the young man’s head seated across from me. His hair felt dry and coarse. I couldn’t remember the color of his hair. Hell, I never remembered the color of anybody’s hair.

“In fact, I’d never really looked at anyone. I just told people what to do. People were dispensable to me—I never really cared about them. My business was important, the deals I made were important. This touching, feeling and knowing other people was definitely not me, nor would it ever be.

“I continued to touch the young man’s eyebrows, nose, cheeks and chin. I felt myself weeping inside. There was a tenderness in my heart that I had not known, a vulnerability I never revealed to myself or anyone else around me. I felt it and was afraid. It was clear to me that I would be out of this building very soon. I would go and never come back.

“Dreams? Did this young man across from me have dreams? Why should I care? He’s nothing to me. I’ve got two teenage kids—I don’t even know their dreams. Besides, all they ever think of is cars, sports and girls. We don’t talk much. I don’t think they like me. I don’t think I understand them. My wife—well, she does her thing and I do mine.

“I’m perspiring and breathing hard. The instructor tells us to stop. I put my hand down and sit back. ‘Now,’ he goes on, ‘this is the last part of the exercise. You will each have three minutes to share with each other the experience you had getting to know your partner. Let your partner know what you were thinking and feeling. Tell them what you learned about them. The sightless person will go first.’

“My partner’s name was Henry. He told me that at first he felt left out because he didn’t think he was going to have a partner for the evening. He was glad I was able to make it on time. He went on to tell me that he felt I truly had courage to take the risks to emote and feel. ‘I was impressed,’ he explained, ‘at the way you followed the instructions despite how resistant you were to them. Your heart is very lonely and very big. You want more love in your life but you don’t know how to ask for it. I admire your willingness to discover the side of you that truly makes a difference. I know you wanted to bolt out of the room, but you stayed. I felt the same way when I first came here. But now I’m not as afraid of who I am anymore. It’s okay for me to cry, feel afraid, panic, want to run, shut down from others, hide out in my work. These are just normal emotions that I am learning to accept and appreciate. You might want to spend more time down here and learn who you really are.’

“I looked across at this young sightless Henry and wept openly. I couldn’t speak. There was nothing to say. I had never known a place like this in my entire life. I had never experienced this amount of unconditional love and wisdom. The only thing I remember saying to Henry was, ‘Your hair is brown and your eyes are light.’ He was probably the first person in my life whose eyes I would never forget. I was the blind man; it was Henry who had the vision to see who he was.

“It was time for the meeting to end. I picked up the envelope under my seat and brought it to the instructor. ‘My secretary was supposed to drop this off to you earlier this evening. Sorry it got here late.’

“The instructor smiled and took the package, saying, ‘This is the first time I have ever run an evening like this. I’ve been waiting for the instructions to arrive so I would know what to do. When they didn’t, I just had to wing it. I didn’t realize you weren’t one of the regular volunteers. Please accept my apologies.’

“I haven’t told anyone, not even my secretary, that I go to the Blind Institute two nights each week. I can’t explain it, but I actually think I’m starting to feel love for people. Don’t tell anyone on Wall Street I said that. You know, it’s a dog-eat-dog world and I have to stay on top of it—or do I? I don’t seem to have answers to anything anymore.

“I know I’ve got a lot of learning to do if my sons are going to respect me. Funny, I’ve never said that before. Kids are supposed to respect their parents, or at least that’s what I’ve always been told. Maybe it goes both ways. Maybe we can learn how to respect each other. For now, I’m beginning to learn how to respect and love myself.”

Helice Bridges

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