Open any news site these days and you can guarantee that it will be dominated by stories about COVID-19, the rising death toll worldwide, and the measures being adopted locally to limit its spread. Will schools go back after the Easter break? Will I be able to get the groceries I need? What does the law say today about the limits on my movements, activities, number of people I can go out in public with? Do we still call it “in public” when gatherings are so severely restricted in number? How on earth do I use Teams, Zoom, Skype/Facetime to keep in touch with people I can’t be close to physically?
And that’s not even scratching the surface of our concerns.
Do I still have a job? Can I still afford my rent/mortgage?
And the big ones: how will I fare if I contract the virus? Will it kill the vulnerable people I love?
With all of this swirling around us every minute of every day, it’s hard to raise a concern about anything else in our troubled world. Poverty, climate change, ocean pollution, the obesity epidemic. It must be incredibly difficult for any of the organisations that work to alleviate these ills to gain traction in anyone’s mind when everyone is gripped by concerns much closer to their own homes.
Fortunately, the radical and rapid adjustment to lifestyles worldwide may well address some of these concerns and show us all the benefits of a different way of living. Improvements to the air quality in China are a perfect example.
So too are improvements in the lives of otherwise busy families when they have (much) more time to spend together and many fewer distractions to disappear into.
My own family has been taking our dog for a walk in the late afternoons and the walking paths are awash with parents teaching their kids to ride a bike or just taking the baby in its pram for a brisk walk to maintain the physical and mental wellness of the new parents at the helm of these families that have multiplied in such strange times.
It’s almost fortunate that I walk with a white cane, which is roughly a metre long (so perfect to enforce an appropriate exclusion zone for myself).
Walking with a white cane is an odd experience. It simultaneously marks me out as someone not able to see others while making me much more likely to be seen by everyone else.
I know I stand out because of experiences like these:
- When I was visiting my doctor last month, I overheard a small boy ask his mother, “Why is that lady holding that stick?” Relieved that this wasn’t one of the tricky questions she had to feign knowledge about, his mother answered that it was because I couldn’t see very well and it helped me to know if I was about to bump into something.
- I only need to visit a coffee shop two or three times before the attendant, having noticed the name the blind lady gave for her order last time, is able to greet me with a friendly “Hello Karen”. For the record, this is my favourite perk of standing out from the crowd.
- Random strangers I encounter at the local shops will observe that they have seen me walking around the neighbourhood. (For the record, I find this a little creepy and it is therefore one of my least favourite parts of standing out from the crowd.)
When it was first suggested that I might start learning to walk with a white cane, I was concerned that it would mark me out as vulnerable and therefore make me a target for thieves and others who might take advantage of my disability.
My lived experience has been anything but. People “get” blindness in a way that they don’t always get other disabilities, and it generally brings out the more generous, helpful aspects of their personalities. Obviously, there must be people who steer clear of me for fear of being called into service or just to avoid an awkward conversation but, luckily, I am blissfully unaware of their very existence.
Taxi drivers are generally good at offering assistance and pulling back when I indicate that I am able to enter and exit the vehicle and find my way into my home, workplace or other destination I have asked them to drive me to.
On many occasions when I have been the only parent available to attend a special assembly or other event at my daughters’ school, they have had someone escort me through the maze of buildings and show me to my seat in the crowded hall – the white cane makes a physical description unnecessary for them to locate me among the other parents.
One day, when I was walking the kilometer home from my gym, it began to rain lightly and a woman slowed her car alongside me to enquire whether I would like a lift home. Again, creepy! So I declined and kept walking.
This brings me to another aspect of walking with a white cane: it only detects obstacles at ground level so, on that wet walk home, I was constantly being slapped in the face by bushes weighed down by the rain that had been steadily falling. I briefly thought about walking with my arm bent over my head Superman-style but decided that was going a step too far in the “standing out” stakes.
Perhaps looking slightly foolish would have been a public service at the present time. People who drove by and noticed me could have gone home and lightened the tone by recounting a story that went something like this: “Anyway, you’ll never believe what I saw on my way home today. There was a Mum-type, dressed in her workout gear. She must have been blind because she was walking down the main road with her white cane in one hand and the other hand bent over her head like she was about to fly off to save people from a burning building!”
I would have liked that. Especially if they recognized me in the Coles checkout line and told me how the sight of me standing out so dramatically had momentarily diverted them from thoughts of the pandemic that had cost them their job security and meant they couldn’t see their grandma on her 100th birthday.
If this post has lightened your mood and given you a chuckle at the image of me being face-slapped with a wet bush, leave me a comment or hit one of those emoji buttons to give me a sense of my impact on your day.