In the past few weeks, after being a guide dog user for many years, I’ve learned some things about walking with a cane on a regular basis. One of the most frustrating things I’ve learned is that, very often, one cannot walk five steps without some form of unsolicited advice from a stranger.
Things like, “There are some stairs coming up.” (Thanks, but I’m actually well acquainted with said stairs, as I walk this way every day.)
Some advice, along with being unnecessary, is not at all helpful. The ever popular “Watch out!” comes to mind. This one is just so nonspecific that I’m never sure whether I should let my cane find an upcoming pole or tree and go about my business as usual, or wave my arms and yell as loudly as I can in order to hopefully frighten off the charging bear–you know, like Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail in the movie, Wild. Something like that. So either I ignore the well-intentioned “Watch out!” or it might just give me a heart attack.
Then there are the compliments. “You’re doing really well!” “You’ve got it, you’ve got it!” I’m never really sure how to take these comments. I’m tempted to say something like, “Thank you, I’ve been working on it for 32 years now, and I think I’m finally getting the hang of this walking thing.” But I don’t because I know most people are just trying to be helpful.
There are so many things to keep in mind when I’m out walking. I realize that much of what it means to be blind and to walk with a cane is so foreign to the experience of people who can see. Actually making contact with things like poles, trees, or trash cans BEFORE walking around them … that’s not something a sighted person will intuitively understand, so it’s probably a little disconcerting to see. Actually exploring an area, small detail by small detail, in order to get a good picture in your mind of how it all fits together is not a concept easily identified with by most people out on the street.
I would love to be able to stop and explain to well-intentioned strangers what I’m doing at any given time, but sometimes I just want to get where I’m going like everyone else. It’s hard when I’m having a bad day, or when the person I’m trying so hard not to snap at has grabbed me or my cane. It’s challenging when said person is actually the fifth one to grab me that day in an effort to be helpful. And still, even with all that, I am loving this new journey. Some days, if nothing else, these well-intentioned strangers do give me a good laugh. Life is good indeed!