Clear skies and bright sunlight peeked through a welcome canopy of shade trees--live oak and pine, willow and bamboo, dogwood and pecan--as the road curved ahead. It was a beautiful, autumn day here in Charleston,South Carolina, perfect for a walk down the quiet, little streets of my neighborhood.
"Hey, Miss Sylvia," I called. A retired nurse who watches out for everyone, Sylvia is a true matriarch. My Lab Sonny and I pass by her house every day on our walks, and I've grown accustomed to listening for her to be out on her front porch. A distinctive squeak in one of the wheels on her car alerts me whenever she is driving down the street, and I wave at her as she calls to me or honks her horn in greeting.
"Hey, baby," came Sylvia's reply. "how you doin'?"
"All right. How about you?"
"Oh, I'm blessed. My knees is givin' me pain, but I've got to keep goin'." Miss Sylvia's voice always lilts with the authentic Gullah sound of the Lowcountry.
While my neighbor and I chatted, I gave my rambunctious yellow Lab (who is soooooo not a guide dog) the command to "sit," keeping him occupied with kibble from my pocket. Sylvia and I wished each other a good day. Then having an afterthought, Miss Sylvia called to me again, "Hey, Laurie!" (Even eight-hundred-plus miles from home, I'll never get away from that darned family nickname, "Laurie.")
"Yes, Miss Sylvia?"
"Do you know if the garbage man came yet?"
"Well, I haven't heard him, but if you'll wait a minute, I can tell you." I went on to explain my technique of checking the garbage cans by tapping them with my long, white cane to avoid touching them. If the garbage cans consistently echo with a hollow sound, I know that they are empty, that the garbage truck has come. A couple of thumps on a couple of nearby cans provided the answer. "No, ma'am! He has not been by here yet!"
"Oh, good! I can get my garbage out! Thank you, baby! You have a blessed one now!"
Since 1964, October 15 has been observed in the United States as White Cane Safety Day. In 2016, President Barak Obama proclaimed October 15 as "Blind Americans Equality Day," encouraging all Americans to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." The entire month of October is often recognized as "Blindness Awareness Month," "Eye Care Awareness Month" and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. On many occasions, I join ranks with others to raise awareness on behalf of the blindness community. This particular day however, my heart was filled with a sense of dignity, contentment and exhilaration that simply could not be matched by any public display of recognition. Yes, on that beautiful, autumn day, my sighted neighbor looked beyond my physical blindness and saw my ability to help her. In fact, I daresay that Miss Sylvia has become so used to my presence in our neighborhood, she didn't even stop to consider my blindness at all.
I could write volumes about my journey through life as an avid cane user: my choice not to use a guide dog; my adopted pet dog with special needs who lopes along beside me every day as I navigate our walks with my cane, the way that I see my extensive, nationwide cane travel experience as something between a dance and a sport, the pride that I feel to be an independent cane traveler and my gratitude to God for His gift of Faith which has allowed me to achieve such personal independence. Today--every day--I celebrate my life as an independent woman who happens to be blind.
"Jesus replied, ""'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39)
Today, I honor my walk with God and my long, white cane by just being real, being a neighbor, loving my neighbor and giving thanks for my neighbors--near and far, blind and sighted--who see me as the unique, whole person that God created me to be.
Thank God, and thank you, for your ongoing prayers and support. A special thanks also goes to Katie, the Aira agent on the other end of the phone, who assisted me long distance in taking the above picture. Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you; and, keep His Song in your heart.
© 2018 by Laurel Jean Walden