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.