So the doublevision family has grown, as Jenelle welcomed Baby Ben into the family on Easter Day!
I just had the privilege of heading out to the northwest to spend a week with my favorite twin and her new, little (well big– now almost 10 lbs!) bundle, along with her adorable, active preschooler and amazing husband.
Obviously, traveling from the Midwest up to the Cascade mountains took some traveling. And if there’s anything that stresses me out about traveling, it’s airports. While I’m still stubborn about not using my cane, airports are one place that I really won’t enter without my trusty colored stick.
As anxious as I feel at airports, however, they are indeed the best place to go to restore confidence in the general goodness of humanity. While making my way through a crowded security line and then to my gate, there were several helpful people who stepped out of their busy heads and own travels to ensure a blind passerby make it safely to her gate.
Now, if I had to fill out a survey about airport assistance, I would defintiely rate the general public higher than airport employees. Even though I was quite amused by the employee who said, “Go over to that line. That’s where people with, um…. problems go,” I found myself slightly less entertained by the Southwest gate-check woman who spoke in a regular tone to everyone else, but put on a thick, sweet molasses voice as she grabbed my arm going down the runway and said, “Good girl!” with each step I took, as if I were turning one and learning to walk for the very first time. Now that was a first. Nervous cane users, don’t let that be an excuse to not carry your cane in airports– this was a rare, though annoying encounter.
For the most part, I felt respect and dignity emanating from the people who offered to help. I was reminded that I am an educator when I carry my cane, as one kind person was very curious about how much I coud see and what being visually impaired is like as they walked me halfway to my gate. One gentleman, on his way to a rugby tournament in Boise, asked if I was travelling for work, which told me that he was looking at me like any capable adult, asking a typical conversation question. He didn’t try to grab my arm or hold me by the hand (yup, that did happen once on the way home…cringe). He simply walked next to me and chatted, occasionally pointing gate numbers out as we walked.
To help make myself feel more at ease, I tried to think of myself as an ambassador representing the blind, doing my part to make a good, strong name for us all, looking at people and makng eye contact as much as possible and being very friendly and gracious. I can think of numerous blind friends and public figures who do this every day.
One public figure, Jennifer Rothschild, a musican and author, wrote a book study, “Me, Myself, and Lies” that I recently did with a group of women at my church. She has been on the Dr. Phil show and is well-spoken and insightful. Despite her charisma and bubbly personality, I was saddened to discover that her blindness still bothers some people.
One of the women in my study remarked that she preferred to listen to Jennifer speak instead of look at her…. “She doesn’t give eye contact. I just can’t stand to look at her,” she exclaimed during our last study. Some of the other women in the group laughed in surprise, and I’m not sure if anyone else was uncomfortable by her comment, but I remember freezing in my seat with the sting of her words. She went on to say, “I know it’s completely my problem but that’s just how I feel,” which really didn’t take the edge off for me.
I became flooded with images of myself, haphazardly waving at people who I know have just said “hi” to me but aren’t within my line of vision. Facing the wrong direction while being introduced to someone or, even worse, having a full conversation with a person before realizing that their spouse or other friend has been standing next to them, out of my range, and has been completely ignored by me for the entire 20 minute conversation.
Even on my trip to Seattle, as I was introduced to multiple people at one time while visiting my niece’s preschool, I had trouble immediately locating all the people that were being quickly pointed out to me around the classroom by the teacher, and I became acutely aware of and uncomfortable with my lack of eye contact. In our culture, eye contact is a sign of respect friendliness, confidence and even kindness. I want to be all of those qualities to those around me, so it is disappointing and sad for me when I realize that’s not the way i’m coming across at times.
As my mom drove me to the airport to head back to Chicago, we were discussing eye contact, and she commented on how, as a former preschool director, she had to be aware of cultural differences regarding eye contact with parents and children from other countries. She essentially changed her expectations in regard to eye contact when interacting with certain families.
In a way, this is similar to how we adjust our expectations when looking into the face of a newborn, as I had the gift of doing last week while holding Baby Benny. We don’t think anything less of a newborn or feel annoyed or disgusted if he or she doesn’t look us in the eye.
Eye contact is really not what we’re thinking of while face-to-face with a new baby. Staring in the face of a newborn can make us feel vulnerable in the most beautiful ways; a new, angelic face adorned with tiny features reminds us that we come into this world very small, in nothing but our skin, and knowing very little.
I feel a similar sense of vulnerability when I open myself up to receiving help, especially from strangers in airport terminals. And I feel an uncomfortable sort of vulnerability when I fail to give eye contact because I’m opening myself up to all sorts of judgements. Whether right or wrong, they are judgements that are ingrained in our culture, so while it would be nice to just think, “Oh well, those people can F off if they’re going to make ignorant assumptions”, it’s a cultural norm based on years of patterned behaviors and thoughts, so it’s not something we can just decide to change because a few blind people and foreigners blog about it. And I’m not even suggesting that it’s something that should change.
While the cliched “it is what it is” remark grates on my nerves, it’s true here.
Failing to give eye contact in social scenarios is definitely not my favorite road to being vulnerable, but it’s a path just the same. Obviously, if I had to choose between finding my way to that open, vulnerable and reflective state of mind via holding a baby, traipsing through Midway Airport or appearing to “space out” in public, I’d pick the cuddly baby every time. Wouldn’t you? 🙂
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