The first time I picked up a white cane and held it in my hands, I wondered if I had ever felt as uncomfortable as I did right there and then. Every fiber in my body screamed out with disapproval, and it tore me up with a confusion the likes of which I had never known as well.
As I fumbled with the light weighted stick in my hands, I felt as though there would be no way that this long flimsy cane would ever be able to help me with anything, let alone independent mobility. After all, I could see just fine a few weeks before. I was still in denial, constantly telling myself from the inside out that I would see again, and soon. I was still in denial, not believing that I was permanently inflicted with a darkened world. I was still in denial, and as I swept the cane back and forth across my kitchen floor, it felt silly and embarrassing. It felt as though someone was playing a joke on me. It felt as though I would wake up soon, and the badly lit play would be all over with, or at least it would have reached the first intermission so I could sneak out the rear exit, under the cover of my own inescapable darkened surroundings.
As I swept through our kitchen for the first time and went through the doors into the garage, my attitude suddenly shifted to one of extreme cockiness. I felt like I could show off just how easy this would be. I felt not like a brand new blind man, but as a man who could see, who just happened to not be able to see at that moment in time. I felt awkwardly mobile, and as I swept towards the stairs to the landing in the garage, I wondered what all the fuss was about.
I quickly found out as I stumbled down the four quick steps of the landing, totally out of control, totally full of amazed fear, and totally lost inside my own garage.
I was instantly thrown into a world of blindness that I had no concept of, and it scared the life out of me. I was blind, and I was all alone inside my dark corner of a newly dark world. I had been through the garage a hundred times the previous few weeks, but with no cane. Right then and there, my garage seemed to come alive with all of it’s obdstacles and dangers and abstract distractions, and they were all coming for me.
I had no idea what to do next, and as I tried regaining any resemblance of normalcy, I panicked as I cried out loudly inside. I was absolutely stuck, and I didn’t have a clue where to turn or what to do.
Those first few moments with my first cane experience slammed the door shut on just about everything I had taken for granted, and slowly opened up the door to a strange, brand new world. I couldn’t see any of it, but I could feel its presence, and it felt oddly familiar, but somehow, just out of reach. I was in my own house, with a cane, and I felt like I was walking on the moon, on the dark side of the moon. Roger and David sure would have been proud of me. I’m not so sure about Mr. Barrett, as not too much impressed him, but still, the view from the dark side was something I will take with me for eternity and a day.
As I made my way out through the front door into the front patio, I could see the murky white fluorescent glow of the vinyl siding around the bulkhead. I could see the muddied shadows of my wife and of Rosemary, and I wanted to run as far away from it all as I could. I wanted it all to end. I wanted to shake my head and wake up from the torment of a bad dream gone horribly, horribly wrong.
But I couldn’t.
I was in it for the long haul, and as the days wore on, I became more and more aware of my plight. I became aware that I was, indeed, a blind man with a whole half a life left in front of him.
I hated the cane and all that it represented. I was told that in time, it would represent a capable, independent man who could make his way through his day with confidence and pride. I was told that it would represent sheer determination and inner strength. I was told that it would help me get on with the rest of my life. I wasn’t told though just how mad and angry and frustrated that it would make me feel. I was not told how humiliating and embarrassed I would feel while I was sweeping and scraping it back and forth. I was not told how it would help in stripping my character down, from the bottom, up, from the inside, out, from all that I knew, to all that I would come to know. I was not told either, how much I would change in just a matter of a few months while I gripped tightly to its slender length. I was not told how my emotions would swing to and fro as I found out and figured out how to cope and handle all of the altered states of existence that I would go through.
It was all right there, right in front of me, right in the way, right in plain daylight for all to see, and I was feeling as though I was standing all alone, right in the middle of it.
Such a wild ride those first few months were. I would soon find myself walking through my old stomping grounds, during my first few O&M lessons, swinging and smacking my way around the streets of Waterville as I slowly discovered a strangely new town all over again.
I remember a day in Augusta, when I was introduced to just how blind I was. Rosemary, my O&M Instructor, directed me to walk in a straight line through the huge, wide open parking lot. She stood behind me and gave me the go, so, I did. I swept and walked, as I walked and swept, confident that I was going to reach the other end of the wide opened area. I swept and smiled under my misguided ego, wondering what the big deal was all about, wondering how I could possibly learn anything from this, and then, it smacked me silly with a logic that I had never dreamed existed.
After thirty seconds or so, Rosemary told me to stop, but she wasn’t behind me any more. She had somehow moved out in front of me, but I couldn’t figure out how. I didn’t hear her walk by me. I didn’t know how she had got so far ahead of me so quickly. She proceeded to tell me that she hadn’t moved an inch. it seems that I had walked around in a half circle, and when I had stopped, I was heading in the direction where I had started from. I sank to my knees, completely caught off guard, and completely torn up inside. All of my inner confidence was stripped clean and hung out on the line. All of my cocky, lack luster attitude went rolling out of the parking lot, across the street, down the embankment, and into the Kennebec River. It was gone, but I was not. I stood and wondered and thought and worried and contemplated and rationalized and admitted that it was time to let go of all my old stubbornness, and reach out for help, the same help that was all around me, waiting for me to open up and let in to my life.
As I crouched and clutched at my cane, I was told that everything was going to be ok, but it would take some work. Everything was going to be fine, but it would all be up to me. Everything would lead me down a road to a different place, but it was a good place with good people that would always give back to me what I offered up to them. I would get out of my new life exactly what I put into it. It all seemed so amazingly overwhelming at first, and still does some days now, but I am growing used to these new feelings, and with the white cane and all that it represents, I will make it through the days.
My cane feels like a part of me now. It feels like an extension of my hand sometimes. It feels like my eyes and helps me see. It takes me where I used to be petrified of. It carries me through my anxious moments and reminds me of just how much is still out there for the taking. It helps me and quiets the roaring waves of emotions that have grabbed me on so many occasions.
I am not done learning though, and continue to do so every waking day. So many different obstacles and hurdles and barriers come down my path, and they always will, but I am able to always make an honest effort to manipulate and maneuver and merge and move around and through my day with faith and hope that me and my cane will be able to find a way.
I do rely on sighted guides a lot, and would be in a totally different world without their help. My wife has held her arm out there for me to grab hold of whenever I have asked for it. The arm, as well as the cane, are vital for me to continue to be.
It’s a word that I never really thought of. It’s a word that defined itself to me over the last three years. It’s a state of mind, as well as a thing to be forever grateful for. It’s a word that holds a place in my heart, and a step in my stride.
It all starts with the gift of the tudor, the guide, the cane, and the mental state of mind. It’s a way out of the darkness. It’s a way forward, towards the light.
It’s my guide, my cane, the whole world, and me.