My friends have always played an important part in my journey through life. In college, time with girlfriends often involved dressing up in black pants paired with a flirty top to explore Seattle’s night life. Over the years it evolved into meeting up for martinis after work, and flying to Vegas for bachelorette parties. These days, we often opt for yoga pants and a bottle of wine in someone’s quiet, childless living room while pretending to discuss a book that no one actually finished reading. And I picture my future self with these same “girls”, sharing photos of grandkids while drinking tea following a 4 o’clock supper date.
I’ve been blessed by friends who accept me for who I am, even when I’ve been unable to accept myself. Back in college, friends showed their support by grabbing my arm and leading me through dark night clubs, whispering things like “That guy is gross – don’t dance with him.”
In the years following, my friends have continued to offer me an arm, a ride, an ear, and a shoulder.
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller
Last year, just a few months before getting my first white cane, I had an awkward airport experience while walking through security with my friend, Jaime. We were headed to Scottsdale for a much needed girl’s getaway weekend with several of our besties. (For those unfamiliar with the term, “bestie” or “besty” is defined by Urban Dictionary as “Friends who have each other’s backs, look out for each other, spend lots of time together, and are just really good friends. They have inside jokes together, they go to the park and swing on swing sets, get ice cream, go to the beach, go to concerts, go bowling, and basically any activity that they like doing together as friends.”)
The first airport security checkpoint we passed was breezy – the guy barely looked at our ids and made a flirty joke about whether or not we were on our way to Vegas (Jaime was wearing designer gold pants). So I was feeling pretty relaxed and not too worried about vision-related stuff. Besides, I was with Jaime, a seasoned traveler who I had explored Italy with, and a pro at guiding me when needed.
I walked confidently up to the next security checkpoint and handed over my id and boarding pass.
“Step back!” the stout woman scolded me, “That’s what it means when I stick out my hand like that!”
Oh, I had not seen her silent hand. I looked down, hoping this whole thing would be over quickly.
“Eye contact is VERY important.” she added as she looked suspiciously at my id and then up at my face again. I raised my eyes to meet hers, fighting the urge to scratch my forehead with my middle finger. I remained silent as she barked at me to “Go stand over there!” I had no idea what “over there” meant since I could not locate her hand to see where she was pointing. So I sort of shimmied awkwardly in the direction I saw others heading, anxious to be through airport security.
While the security official’s gestures had been out of my field of vision, her angry face was completely within my line of sight. I clearly saw the look of disgust in her face when she stared back at me. This brief ordeal had taken me by surprise, and triggered feelings of shame. I fought back tears as I continued to pull my little red suitcase along.
Jaime soon caught up to me, and I immediately asked her more questions about her budding romance, hoping she hadn’t heard my tense encounter at the security checkpoint.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I said something to that rude lady about your eyes.” Jaime told me a few minutes later.
“Oh?” I was surprised, given the fact that Jaime is the most non-confrontational friend I have.
“I’m not sure if you saw this, but she was holding out her hand for you to give her your id and boarding pass, and instead of handing it to her, you stuck it out in a different place.” So I had missed 3 hand gestures, and only realized 2 of them. Groan.
“I told her that you couldn’t see her hand, and that’s why you stepped forward and didn’t hand your id to the right place. And then she replied that she didn’t know you couldn’t see her hand.” I groaned inwardly, angry at myself for not just being upfront with the security guard about my vision loss.
Jaime continued, “So then I told her that’s why she shouldn’t say things like that to people, and should give people the benefit of the doubt before judging them.’ Upon hearing her words, the scorn and judgement I had felt weighing on me from the security guard dissipated.
And that’s what I love best about true friends. Sometimes they have the ability to speak the simple truth when we can’t find the words.
“A true friend unbosoms freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably” – William Penn