Thursday, December 4, 2008

Taking My Lead From The Blind

Working in downtown Fort Worth one encounters all manner of curious and eye-catching scenery. There was the incident with the mostly nude animal rights protesters doing their thing in freezing cold temperatures out in front of whatever that place was; probably something to do with cattle. Livestock is a big thing here. Not only do we eat it but we use it for decorative purposes too.

There’s the crazy dreadlock homeless guy who often sports a strange and unidentifiable nose apparatus whilst contorting his face into a sordid variety of disturbing expressions. He twitches, converses animatedly with himself, and more often than not wears no shoes, though he may be donning a black leather overcoat, even in the stifling Texas heat. Most notable about this character is not the man himself but the reactions of unwary passers-by who have stumbled into his vicinity. The looks of sheer terror, stunned confusion, and cautious maneuvering give the impression of an encounter with a downed electrical line that’s dancing unpredictably…and wearing a very odd nasal accessory.

Also worth mentioning is the elderly black woman who used to be a downtown fixture. Always dressed in her Sunday best, she’d wander the streets engaged in scriptural but profanity filled shouting matches with herself and – one imagines – with God. The threat of physical violence always seemed more plausible with her than with crazy dreadlock dude. Haven’t seen her in awhile and I do hope that she is okay. Maybe she worked things out with herself. Maybe she worked things out with God. Either way, the place isn’t the same without her.

Having worked in downtown for nearly eight years there is still, on any given day, some scene or occurrence that can grab my attention and seem out of the ordinary. It probably doesn’t hurt that the county jail is right across the street from my place of employment. There are plenty of examples but like the ones already mentioned, they would be tangential to what I had in mind as I started scribbling this out.

Yesterday I noticed something that I’d seen previously on many occasions and though always more than a little intrigued, I’d never allowed myself to just stop and really take it in. There are a number of blind people who frequent downtown. I don’t mean this in a philosophical or metaphysical sort of way, although that would also be true. I am referring to people who literally do not have eyesight. Several of them have guide dogs - which is fascinating enough in its own right - but the person who caught my attention yesterday did not have a guide dog.

In what was honestly one of the most impressive and inspiring acts I can recall witnessing, I watched a blind man disembark from a city bus and make his way several blocks through downtown. This may sound like a trivial thing but you have to understand, navigating one’s way through downtown can be challenging even for pedestrians with perfectly good eyesight. As I saw him get off of that bus, all alone with no assistance save a thin metal stick, in a crowd of hurried people and with cars whizzing by, it occurred to me what a precarious situation this was (or could be).

He moved a little slower than the rest of the crowd (for obvious reasons) and as everyone else cleared out quickly, he made his way meticulously down the sidewalk, tapping out a noticeable rhythm with his walking stick. I watched as he approached the first potentially perilous obstacle, an abrupt drop-off from the curb of a driveway that cut across the sidewalk. Even with the stick out in front, the likelihood of him losing his footing when he reached the driveway seemed high to me; but no. Even without the walking stick he seemed to somehow know when he was about to step off that curb. He paused for a second and then gracefully stepped down, continuing on his way.

Next, there was a concrete planter about waist high directly in his path. He became aware of it when his stick gave it a good whack. He stopped, his facial expression changed (as if wondering what the hell this thing was), and he felt it out with the metal walking stick. Once the object was identified, he easily maneuvered around it and continued on.

I continued to watch for awhile. From my vantage point it was easy to do without looking strange or rude. In rapt attention I observed him navigate the urban obstacle course, crossing busy streets at the cross walks (amazing!) and dodging other pedestrians; basically going about his business as a person with 20/20 vision would. I know this may sound like a simple thing but to really watch it and acknowledge the significance of what was occurring was fascinating and humbling. Even more so, it was profoundly inspiring.

As I went on my way it seemed to me that this was a truly heroic and triumphant demonstration of the human spirit. What adaptable and determined creatures we are! On an individual level our ability to overcome adversity is remarkable, almost limitless. Collectively it seems to come less easy but the potential is certainly there.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t really have any problems but after seeing this blind fellow yesterday, any thought of personal inconvenience or disappointment seems trivial now, laughable even. To think that someone can be completely blind and still manage to make their way through the world so effectively is…empowering. That could be any one of us. Through will, determination, and focus (innate human abilities), any one of us could also overcome such a devastating setback. And if we are capable of that, it seems that we could do just about anything.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice read Ben, thanks.
Tony

brian kennedy said...

Thanks, Ben. I read an article awhile back about different adaptations some people had made to being blind. One man had highly developed a spacial memory sense in such a way that he had a precise map in mind of his local environment around his house and a very precise idea of exactly where his body was positioned in it. This allowed him to do things like work on his roof in the middle of the night with complete relaxed confidence while his neighbors were terrified for his safety, ha ha.

Ben There said...

Tony -

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

Hi Brian -

There was something on tv about a blind kid who could navigate his way around by making clicking noises and listening for the echoes; like human sonar. Amazing.
Thanks for stopping by.

notamobster said...

Nice to read a feel-good story every once and a while. Thanks.

Hey, did you ever get a chance to delve into the T. Paine writings? Someone at mirrors quoted him (Jj, I think) and it reminded me of you.

Ben There said...

Hi nota -

T. Paine is in my reading queue but I haven't made it there yet. I am looking forward to it though. It was Jj who quoted Paine the other day and it served as a reminder that I need to check it out. I have one small book to get thru and then it's on to Paine.

There seems to be a little animosity going on over at Smoking Mirrors huh.

Anonymous said...

That you took the time, and had the ability to see what you saw is inspiring as well!!

Cheers
Jj

Anonymous said...

I think there are not a few false flags over there Ben. Les warned me long ago that not all bloggers are who they say they are. He's the wise one and I do heed his advice.
Tony

Anonymous said...

Just felt like stopping in again before signing off for the evening. Seems much more serene here than mirrors--maybe a break from the mayhem is due. Stopped over at Susana's and Nina's too--just walked around a while.
Will stop in from time to time and check up on the youngins'

Jj

Ben There said...

Well it sure has digressed into a school lunchroom foodfight over there (for the moment). In all honesty though, I do think that that M_aestera (or what the hell ever her name is) is suffering from some kind of psychosis.

Jj - Thanks for stopping by. Come by anytime. But be forewarned, I don't write with the frequency or proficiency of Mr. Visible based on time and talent limitations.

notamobster said...

Ben - to clarify its "Maestro" and yes I think she may be nuts. I asked her to explain what she meant with all the angry tirades against my view of the fed awhile back, and she flew off into some other dimension about how she didn't owe me anything and I'm a fool, etc. ???

M_astera is the other one. He's a pretty sharp guy who seems genuinely concerned with inproving mankind and is actively working toward the same. He may not be right on everything, but who is? His heart's in the right place.

(By the by - I sent les a comment and told him to let it play out. Its childish of me, but sometimes I'm a bit juvenile :)

Ben There said...

Sorry to confuse Maestro with M_astera. Thank you for the clarification.

It is a pretty entertaining thing but at some point it crosses the line and just becomes sad and taints the vibe of the room.

There are some very bright bulbs over there but it's important to remember that intelligence is no guarantee of sanity. In some very notable cases there is a poignant inverse relationship between the two (ever seen "A Beautiful Mind"?).

Oh...and I think I'm juvenile most of the time, so I understand completely.

Anonymous said...

A Beautiful Mind Ben; a beautiful picture .
I don't like Russell Crowe- he's just a lout! but with this one he nailed it!
I have/had a schizophrenic friend at the time I saw this picture and took him with me. Very tough fellow, sooner hit you than talk to you.
He was in tears halfway through the movie.
Excellent movie.
Tony
ps. Unfortunately with schizophrenia comes paranoia and after 12 years my friend has placed me in the ‘to hate and be suspicious of’ place in his head; unfortunate. Although I must say I am a better person for having had him as a friend for the time that I did.

m_astera said...

Hi Ben-

I got the heads-up that I was being confused with the lady who controls the $10 trillion inheritance. Nope, not me. This is me:

Let the Stupid Grow the Food


RE your essay: Nice to see someone paying attention. I get along well with the crazy street people myself and generally try to chat them up.

There was a fellow who wrote a book called Mindsight I think back in the late 1980s. He taught blindfolded people to read newspapers and drive with blindfolds on, and as I recall he even taught a blind man to drive who passed his drivers license test. I spent a lot of time blindfolded as part of some training I was getting at the time; it's quite a worthwhile exercise. One thing I realized was that I had spent most of my life blind with my eyes wide open.

Ben There said...

Hi m_astera -

My apologies for confusing you with the $1 million per hour salary lady (who also controls a $10 trillion inheritance!).

That Mindsight book sounds fascinating. Thanks for stopping by. I will be visiting your blog shortly, love the title.

Ben There said...

Tony -

As for A Beautiful Mind, I agree with you on both counts. Especially the part about Russell Crowe being a goon.

In all seroiusness, a schizophrenic who would sooner hit you than talk to you is kind of a scary thought.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben,
Saw the comments about Paine--was my wake up call---it had been around since 1793 and it only took me 40+ years before I found it--Age of Reason is really a pretty quick read. You can find it at infidels.org (Parts 1 and 2) If there is a prologue, I don't think I read it. Nothing he says is wasted space.
After that, if you can get a copy of "The Power of Now", Eckhard Tolle--I think you'll get a lot of input into some of the questions you have.
Both books were very powerful for me. I think nota might be reading it if he found time yet.
Cheers

Jj

Ben There said...

Jj -

I've been a fan of Eckhart for a few years now. He puts it in terms that are in synch with my personal experience and perception and as I've mentioned before over at Origami, I am convinced he is the real deal; meaning, one who is fully 'awake'. At first I dismissed Tolle because he was popular with Oprah, etc. Then one day out of curiousity I got one of his audio books and was amazed at how he defines the undefineable.

Another good source is a guy named Roy Davis, who is now a friend and teacher of mine, and Les was the person that introduced me to him. You can google "Roy Eugene Davis". Roy is also the real deal although his story is a stark contrast to Tolle's.

I'll probably drop what I'm doing and tackle Paine within the next week...between you, Nota, and other folks, my curiousity is piqued. And from what I can tell, the religious right would hate him which means I will probably love him.

Peace...

Anonymous said...

So many people have jumped on so many bandwagons--smurfed their way through a book and then let it rot--along with the message on a shelf somewhere.
I continue to read Tolle as others would whip out their bible every day. Helps keep me in balance and more focused on life--the way I want it to be. All of course is worthless without the doing, the relearning. Letting go of the crap is a continuous process--amazing how much of it builds up over the years. I am responsible for who I am.
I sense from your info that you have a very special wife as do I. In the movie The Big Chill one of the characters describes her relationship with her deceased boyfriend as : "he had too many expectations, I didn't have any---I am the latter, my wife is the other. Sure am glad I got to go along for the ride until I got my own wheels under my feet.
Life is good!!

Jj

Ben There said...

Funny you say that about Tolle, I actually have several of his audiobooks downloaded onto my cheap mp3 player (not an ipod) and I listen to them regularly. We get bombarded with so much info pulling us to the external and the entrapments of the ego, I figure it can't hurt to put some offsetting info in on a regular basis; between that, the practice of gratitude, and regular meditation, life goes along pretty well.

Oh and yes, thank you...I do have a wonderful wife who can put up with my weirdness, etc.

Anonymous said...

m_ re: 'Let the Stupid Grow the Food'-
I can just see Babs and the two Georges and the one in Florida toiling in the field with a chip hoe.
Tony

Anonymous said...

Couldn't post on mirrors this morning no matter what I tried--verification words just wouldn't come up--
Having trouble with our connection here too. Anybody else having problems?

Jj

m_astera said...

Eckhardt is getting rave reviews here I see. Funny but I've never read or heard him other than reading the blurbs from a company I used to buy tapes and CDs from that was always sending me offers for his "power of Now" tapes.

I have no doubt with Ben's and Jj's recommendation that Eckhardt is worth the time, but for the past year I haven't been reading anyone's take on spiritual growth. It just feels like I've already absorbed enough to work with for a long, long time.
*****

Tony, I'm not sure what to make of your cryptic comment. Maybe I should explain that the essay is meant to be humorous? As for the two georges, I wouldn't use their nasty carcasses for fertilizer. Or Hugo's. :)

Anonymous said...

m-astera--I would recommend Tolle as a great tool to stay on track--don't know if I would call it "spiritual" as much as "how our mind and spirit work--or don't" kind of thing. Very revealing--every word. Kind of nice les has not posted a new one, or comments--good break. Was hanging out over at Ninas--nice place.
Loved the Bob Marley picture--Have you heard Jimmy Cliff--Many Rivers to Cross---gets me every time.
Time to eat--later--
Jj

nina said...

Hi Ben, just wanted to tell you I enjoyed this post. You wrote it beautifully with great insight and sesitivity.
In art school, we had a humanities professor that had us blindfold each other and take turns leading or being led through the urban jungle. It was all about building trust which only happened by giving up fear.
Thanks.

Ben There said...

Hi Nina -

Thank you and I'm glad that you enjoyed it. Sounds like you had a wise humanities professor. There's alot to be said for giving up fear.

notamobster said...

I'd give up fear, but I'm afraid to ;-)

inre: 'A beautiful Mind'. It was an inspiration for me when coming out of the whole I was in, following the Kaitlyn's death. I sought physicians to 'practice' on me, but I couldn't abide killing my spirit of adversity (as my Dad has always called it) with chemicals (that's all they know how to do). I said to myself: "self, if that crazy guy can treat his own mental problems, so can you!". It may seem humorous, but I assure you, I'm quite serious. I worked out a slow and methodical plan for overcoming depression. It involved changing many facets of daily life. The only thing I haven't been able to do is lose the weight I gained (55lbs in 3 months after she died). I had pneumonia 5 times in a year and a half (doc said my immune system was shutting down), drank like a Mikail Gorbachev during that time, too. I haven't been *sick since I started my recovery (6 1/2 years).... Jesus, what the hell am I rambling on for?

(I like you people)...

Ben There said...

Nota -

For lack of a more eloquent way to say it, you've been through some seriously devastating shit. Pulling yourself up out of that kind of a childhood and then another tragedy is one hell of an accomplishment. I can't even pretend to know what that kind of suffering feels like but here you are and it sounds like you've built a good life for yourself and your family. Pretty amazing.

nina said...

Ditto Ben, and it was eloquent. Nota is an a miracle and doesn't even know it. Life can be viewed as a stepladder. Two steps up, one step backwards, two more steps up, another one backwards.

Ben There said...

Nina -

That is one cool hat you've got on in that picture...

nina said...

My childhood hat. I got one just like it last winter and wear it every day.
Thanks!

notamobster said...

Hey, thanks for the support folks. I just came back to it, and want you to know that your words are felt. Much love to you folks...