Thursday, January 25, 2018

A sight to remember

Today, I saw something truly rare. I hope I never forget it. Not even for a day.

A utility crew closed a lane of our street and the alley, forcing me to detour. It was a glorious day in Chicago so I didn't mind the extra driving. To run my errands, I had already opted to take the surface streets instead of the freeway so I could absorb the unseasonably warm weather. I circled the neighborhood to enter our garage from the other end of the alley.

Creeping along the parked cars, I made sure no pedestrians were approaching. Suddenly, I stomped the brakes. There she was. A very young student holding a little white cane with a red tip. She was less than four feet tall, wearing glasses with very thick lenses. Apparently, legally blind, she stabbed at the pavement and leaned her head into the alley and listened. Her instructor was a grey-haired man wearing his photo ID on a lanyard. The drama unfolded.

The little one continued to feel around with her cane, following her instructors' guidance. Every time she tapped the pavement and felt the surface with the cane's tip, the man provided cautions and insights. The scene continued for about 30 or 60 seconds, and then the instructor acknowledged me and smiled.

The girl toddled forward, crossed the alley and edged up the street. Her guide followed closely.

I crept up the ramp toward the alley and stopped at the side walk. As she struggled along the pavement, I could now see her little legs were hobbled. Yet, she took measured steps and continued.

Shaking my head, I had to admit I almost never think about the blind and blind children. And I have no excuse for my absentmindedness. Some 30 years ago, I produced and directed two TV feature stories about blindness. One focused on leader dogs and learning to walk and live with them. The other highlighted blind adults who play a form of baseball by hitting a large, electronic, beeping ball and running to beeping bases. Imagine that. The game is called beeper ball.

When music legend Stevie Wonder delivered an inspirational talk to his alma mater, Cass Technical High School in Detroit, I collaborated with a team to capture the event and a wide-ranging interview with the blind Motown great.

Yet, I still manage to forget that nearly 40 million people wake up legally blind every day, about 1.3 million in the United States alone.

Today, a tiny, courageous person gave me pause and made me shameful that I take for granted my sight and so much more. I thought about the parents of those children who can't see, or hear or speak. How tough it must be to teach them and how challenging it can be for disabled kids to learn.  It made my heart heavy, and grateful for our healthy sons and granddaughter.

But the heaviness was quickly lifted by the image of that splendid little person finding her way up the road of life without the benefit of clear eyes. A sight to remember and cherish.

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