It had been a long day, the kind where you drag yourself into the house, let out a big sigh and start stripping off your clothes before you’ve barely closed the door behind you. I call it couch flopping. If it was an Olympic sport, I’m confident I’d win a gold medal. So as I pulled my car out of the parking deck I was looking forward to a drive home in silence and hoping the traffic gods were satisfied with whatever sacrifices they had already received that day.
A few blocks ahead of me, I saw two men flanking a tiny woman, like textbooks abutting a thin paperback. Odd, I thought. As I approached them, I realized each man was manipulating a long white can, each one tapping the ground before them. Slowing, I tossed them a brief glance and realized the woman was instructing these visually impaired men in the use of the cane.
As I passed them, I found myself thinking about how much courage it must take to be without sight in such a busy and often scary world. Most of us have the benefit of our eyesight, even if it’s corrected with glasses or contacts. We can see the traffic, the changes in the weather, and the body language of those around us. We can see the obstacles in our path, the source of startling noises, and the approach of a stranger. But these men had didn’t appear to have such abilities. Maybe they never did.
Musing about their courage on the drive home, I thought about what Helen Keller once said. I’m not sure this is an exact quote, but it was something like “it is far better to have vision and no sight than sight and no vision.” Seeing these men, I wondered what kind of vision I have. I didn’t just wonder about the kind of vision upon which leadership speakers and writers opine. I didn’t just think about a vision at work, or for my financial plan, or what I might achieve in life. I thought about the kind of vision that looks inward, take stock of who I am and what I am and how the things that happen to me, and the things I invite into my life, affect me. And I thought about how much courage it takes to look at such things, the “traffic” of life, if you will.
It’s no small thing to make our way through this world. It takes courage to face the difficult conversations we need to have with others and, sometimes, with ourselves. It takes courage to climb out of bed and go to work when our list of things to do is longer than the time in which we have to accomplish them. When our children are hurting, or our parents are aging, or we are dealing with the anxiety of waiting on test results we have to find the courage to face our fear and press ahead—to lead, to wait, or even to comfort.
It’s been said that courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s the willingness to do something when we are afraid. It isn’t easy, I know. But I’m pretty sure that turning away from our fears, avoiding difficult circumstances or people isn’t the solution. The two men I watched learning a new skill, navigating in a world they cannot see, have the kind of courage that inspires me. I suppose they could have chosen to succumb to the fears of their blindness. Instead, they chose to put aside their anxieties and to leave the darkness and walk in sunshine of an Alabama summer’s day.
I hope I can have the kind of vision they showed me that afternoon. I don’t recall if I actually went home and worked on my Couch Flopping Technique that evening. I’m sure I’ll practice again some time soon. But when I’m tempted to shrink from the challenges that lie before me, I hope I have the courage to face my fears like them and feel the warmth of that same sunshine on my own face.