The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
One of the stories I have shared with the Lovely K. is that I used to clean my room in the dark when I was a kid. When the mess had become intolerable (to my mother) I was compelled to take action. I would do it at night, with the lights out, feeling my way around my darkened room, picking things up and figuring out by touch and by my visual memory of the things scattered around the floor what they were, and then putting them away. Wondering what it might be like to experience the world without sight was part of the challenge; making a tedious chore interesting was the other part. When I was finished and turned the lights on, it always felt as if I had returned from a journey, and was seeing my world with new eyes.
“Trust walks” have become a popular team-building activity. Leading a person who is blindfolded requires courage, trust, and care in equal measure and from both sides. I had proposed on a day in February to K. that she lead me blind-folded around the neighborhood some time as a courage challenge, showing her that I was willing to put my safety in her hands. The only problem was that at that time it had become extremely cold, and there was a lot of snow on the ground. So, in a blend of my childhood cleaning technique and blindfold trust walks, K. decided to spend the morning wearing a blindfold in the house – sometimes she needed me to lead her; other times she managed on her own. She was even able to start a load of laundry, since she had long since noticed that the “start” button on our washer has a different shape from all the others.
“Put your clarinet together,” I suggested. “There are lots of blind musicians. See what the experience of making music without eyesight is like.”
She did, feeling her way around the pieces of the instrument with her long fingers, lining everything up and installing the reed. “Okay, done.”
“So practice,” I urged. “Try practicing for ten minutes any of the music you already know without having to read the sheet music.”
K. felt her way to a chair with sunshine streaming onto it from a nearby window. “Warm,” she noticed, turning her face to the light. “Can you time me? Ten minutes?”
After five minutes, she was sure the ten minutes were up. “It feels so long!” she moaned.
“Interesting how time can feel longer or shorter, depending on what else is happening, isn’t it?”
She didn’t answer. She was back to playing the clarinet in the sunshine.
Having even such a small experience of living without sight can increase our sensitivity; we become aware of different ways to experience the world. Our project of raising a guide dog is an extension of that, and I hope will also increase K.’s compassion for people whose challenges are with them all the time.
Once the temperatures have really warmed up (it’s still cold here!) and the sidewalks are finally free of that ice, we’ll take this outside. We’ll test our trust in each other. It’s a courage challenge that can really open our eyes.