Empowered by White Cane Day, I’m giving the dog the afternoon off and taking my cane for a walk to the grocery store. The weather is clear, the track is fast and, in seven minutes flat, I’m bearing down on the corner of Clark and Summerdale.
From Starbucks bounces a fellow who, while shouting into his phone, hurdles my cane. I kid you not—he doesn’t even break stride. When I reach the grocery store, a man kicks my cane out of the way so he can get to the automatic door before I do. I mean, he kicks my cane out of his way.
What’s going on? Is my white cane invisible? I’ll say it straight—my cane keeps you safe from me and keeps me safe from you. This partnership fails when the cane means everything to me and nothing to you. While anger is not the currency to negotiate this social contract, I nevertheless demand an accounting. Is it ignorance? Indifference? Sometimes I think you just don’t care and I despair that conclusion. It robs me of hope—and that hurts.
Inside the store, an octogenarian screeches “What ya carryin’ that stick for?” and scurries off before I can reply. In the candy aisle, a kid says, “Mommy, why’s that man swinging that stick?” Mommy hushes the kid and they hurry on.
OK, chalk it up to the innocence of youth, politically correct parenting or memory loss among seniors. But the message is that I am an object of curiosity rather than a subject of interest. I’m willing, eager even, to explain the white cane to the kid, the mom and the old lady, to humanize the experience, but no one seems inclined to listen. The corollary is the server who asks my wife, “And what will he have?” What’s striking is the irony of the blind being overlooked by the sighted. The implication is that blind people don’t measure up compared to the “able bodied”—and that hurts.
Nearing home, I ponder my part in today’s drama. Are my antennae tuned only to slights? Do I tally wrongs to prove I’m a victim? I feel the wake of a bicycle whizzing past. Mine is a quiet street; bikes needn’t be on the sidewalk. I could get hit and that would hurt. My cane tip could get caught in the spokes. The cyclist could go flying over the handlebars and smash onto the pavement. What would my part be in that pain? I tap home, pondering the meaning of White Cane Day and whether it has meaning at all— and that hurts.