My locket always reminds me to grab my cane. But I don’t always remember to wear my locket. When my friend Emily first gave it to me last summer, in memory of a crazy, divine experience , I wore it a lot, and I carried my cane a fair amount. But over time, I’ve come up with all kinds of excuses not to wear my locket. None of them good ones.
What if it falls off my neck, and I lose it? What if it doesn’t go with my sweatpants? What if I become the weird locket girl who doesn’t even shower without it?
What if it reminds me to use my cane too much?
The truly sad part about the avoidance of my locket is that it has come at a point in my journey where I am SO close to “coming out”, if you will. I have made a ton of progress toward the wholehearted life I want to be living. The process, which has included blind-proofing my home, mobility instruction, level 1 Braille and technology training, has been rather time consuming. I feel really proud of the steps I’ve taken, but they seem to have halted at a certain point.
I carry my cane to yoga in the evenings. And at the mall with my girls. But for whatever reason, I still feel uncomfortable using it at certain places. Like at church. It’s one of those off-limit places where you’d think I would feel most comfortable, my husband being one of the pastors and all. It’s filled with people who know me, support me, and make me feel at home. It’s filled with hundreds of loving people. Yet I’m filled with hundreds of reasons not to unfold my cane. What if it makes my husband look bad, having a blindish wife? What if I trip someone with it? What if people talk to me differently, like the aiport official using her baby voice? What if….
With my progress at a halt, I begin thinking I’m crazy for taking steps in the first place. I’m doing just fine bumping into people here and there. After all, I can see. -ish.
Self-sabotage at its finest.
Yet I didn’t realize that this is what I’ve been doing until a few days ago, when I was listening to my friend Tammy’s podcast on self-sabotage. Listening to Tammy, as she vulnerably dissected the ways she has sabotaged her own progress with health goals — and the possible reasons why — caused me to do the same.
As a legally blind person, I benefit from using a cane. I acquire far less bruises, make far less spectacles of myself and receive far more help from strangers. Yet anxiety over the small percentage of uneducated people who speak more loudly or slowly or condescendingly to me when I have it, clouds my perspective.
Just the other day, I was telling one of my husband’s wise and witty co-workers about this phenomenon of being treated differently when I have my cane, and he said it would make an interesting documentary. I admitted that I may over-think some people’s reactions, but in reality the vast majority of people really think blindness is an all-or-nothing deal, when in actuality only 7 percent of blind people are completely blind. His obvious intrigue and nonchalant way of discussing something that is typically a sensitive topic for me lifted yet another layer of shame, which has been a major motivator for my sabotage.
This conversation, along with Tammy’s podcast, swirled around my mind on Easter morning as I got ready for church, which could be why I reached for my locket that morning. That, and it went perfectly with my outfit. As soon as I cinched the clasps, I knew I would be accessorizing further with my white cane. I skipped down the stairs and called to my daughters, “Say ‘mom you’re brave!’”
“Mom, you’re brave,” they said flatly, in perfect unison.
“Now say it like you mean it!”
“Mom, you’re brave!” they shouted.
I needed to feel it before I could be it.
Our chariot pulled up shortly thereafter, and we arrived at church several minutes before service, so my husband was still in his office. I was first greeted by one of my favorite people in the world, who was playing cello with the band, and acted so happy to see me that the cane simply shifted to the back of my mind.
Then I walked into the staff hallway, and the wise and witty co-worker called out “Good job!” upon seeing my mobility aide (okay, so not his wittiest remark, though he later came up with a brilliant cane-lightsaber idea).
“I’ve never seen you with your cane before,” came a voice from Ben’s office. It was his assistant, and it was the perfect, matter-of-fact response. No judgment. Just observation.
“Yeah, isn’t it cool?” my husband chimed in, like I was showing off a new tat or something.
So far, so good.
I checked my girls into the kids’ room, noting how nice it was not knocking into people in the hallway like I usually do.
Then it was time to walk into service. It was really dark, and it had already started by this point, so there were very few open seats. My friend Tammy walked me in and said there were seats in the front row. I cringed inwardly for a second, not wanting to be led down the aisle with my long, white stick, like I was making some grand entrance. And then I stopped myself. ”Sure!”
Ironically, shortly after sitting down, we began to sing a song I had never heard, with a repeating chorus, “You make me brave”. I suddenly felt like the song was planned just for me, though the funny thing about a sacred gathering is that you also have the sneaking suspicion that everyone around you feels the same way.
During the “greeting” time, which I normally dread because I unknowingly “diss” people by not seeing their outstretched hands, I turned around to greet the people behind me, and they both identified themselves even though I knew them. I felt so much relief, like the ball was in their court and not mine. Thanks to my cane.
The teaching was on freedom, and again, I smiled inwardly, thinking about how free I felt walking through the building that morning.
I had always assumed people would view me as weak or incompetent using a mobility aid. But maybe that’s how I was viewing myself.
Near the end of the gathering, there was a dramatic reading about a baby bird taking its first flight, and two lines stuck out as I listened, “What seemed like a plunge into death…..turned out to be a flight into freedom. A wise poet once said ‘freedom lies in being bold”. There was a time when even the thought of using a mobility aid felt like a defeat.
Music began playing, subtle and rhythmic in all the best ways. My friend Amanda sat next to me, describing in perfect detail every bit of Easter decor, down to the hanging triangles from the ceiling. And then she helped direct my gaze to the outline of a canvas being splattered with specs of colorful paint by a silhouetted artist.
And when the lights flashed on, illuminating the abstract painting, I felt the exhilaration of being alive and human and courageous, in a million different colors, like the ones exploding onto the canvas.
At the end of his message, our lead pastor said something that resonated with my experiences.
“Before you can have freedom out here, you first need to have it in here,” he said, pointing inward.
A single statement had never felt so true to me.
I felt it on the inside. I felt brave. And bold. And free.