********** A Little Child Shall Lead Them by Father Patrick Martin ********** From the Editor: Picking up and using a white cane is difficult, sometimes to the point of impossibility for many newly blind or increasingly visually disabled people. Yet properly considered, the white cane is the most fundamental instrument of independence ever put into the hands of a blind person. Mary Brunoli, a Federationist from Connecticut, sent the following article because it is such a joyful discovery of the possibilities one man discovered when he went to New York City armed with his white cane and the conviction that it was the only tool he needed to move safely through Manhattan. The article first appeared in the Winter, 1997, newsletter of the Ave Maria Place Retreat Center. The author, Father Pat Martin, is a member of the center's staff. This is what he says: ********** How would you define adventure? For me it was taking the number seven train from Main Street, Flushing, New York, to 74th Street/Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights, New York, and there transferring to the E train to Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan all by myself. St. Michael's Parish in Flushing had brought me back to my favorite city, and now they added to their gift by giving me a day off in the middle of their mission in order to accommodate a particular parish celebration. I was really excited as I planned that day off weeks in advance.
I love New York. In the early 70's I had lived there and had mastered the subways, buses, Long Island Railroad, and even the taxis. My day off would be a trip down memory lane. Besides the two decades since I had tramped the streets of the city, the only other major difference for me was that now the pinpoint vision that used to let me read the subway and street signs letter by letter was quite deteriorated. Instead of using that pinpoint, tunnel vision as my traveling aid, now I used the white cane. I wondered, as I embarked on my adventure, how my new aid would come through.
"Are you really going to ride the subway alone?" an anxious priest in the parish asked me.
"Sure!" I said remembering with excitement the thrill of independence and grown-up-ness that subways had given me decades earlier. I was like Hansel and Gretel, carefully noting distinct landmarks, counting lefts and rights, etc., so I could find my way home at the end of my adventure day. I stopped at one street corner to look for the old familiar subway entrance. It was absolutely amazing. I didn't even have to ask for help. Someone saw me and promptly offered, "Can I help you, Father?"
My white cane that adventure day was just about as marvelous for me as Moses' staff! His staff parted the Red Sea before the Israelites--my white cane parted the sea of New Yorkers wherever I went that day. I recalled with a certain nostalgia how many times on a similar trip decades earlier I would bump into people because I didn't see them coming and they couldn't see that I was blind. My cane brought me down the subway stairs, and another offer of help led me right to the subway token booth, where I discovered another change that the two decades had accomplished-- instead of paying twenty-seven cents for a token, I now paid one dollar and fifty cents.
Armed with two tokens, one to go and one to return, I moved with the crowd down to the subway platforms. I had known that my vision had deteriorated somewhat in the last half dozen years, but I never realized just how much it had deteriorated until that adventure day. No matter how I tried, I could no longer see the street signs, even letter by letter, and from the subway cars I could no longer pick up the station signs along the way. I couldn't even make out the signs on the subway trains themselves to be sure I was boarding the correct train, but I didn't have to.
"Watch where I get off, and get off two stops before me," one lady said laughing heartily as I asked about the 74th Street station stop. "I've always wanted to use that line," she said and then proceeded to tell me exactly how many stops it would be to my desired stop. Her laughter was the tone of my entire adventure day. Except for the New York City friends with whom I had lunch that day, I never met one person that I knew from years gone by, and yet it was as though I was with dear, dear friends all day. I never had to ask for help twice; many times help was offered before I could ask for it. I never took a wrong train or got off at a wrong stop the whole day.
Too often we are given the impression that in the city one could die on the sidewalk and people would just walk by unconcerned. Not true. Not true at all, I learned on my adventure day. I had lunch with my life-long friends, and then Justine and I bummed around the city for a while, doing a bit of shopping that one can do only in New York. Finally I hugged my friend goodbye and then, like Hansel and Gretel, began following my landmarks home.
At 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue I was directed without problem to the subway stairway, and my cane got me down safely. A friendly passer-by directed me to the Queens-bound train side, and I began the trek through a long tunnel-like corridor. I had been assured that the corridor would lead me straight to the escalator that would bring me down to the E train platform. I was excited as my cane picked up the metal platform of the escalator and was about to get onto the first step when an arm took me around the waist, and I heard a lady's voice say, "I don't think you want that escalator." With her help I learned that I was at the top of the up instead of the down escalator. She walked me a few feet to my right, and I was back on track. I hadn't asked for help; I hadn't even realized that I needed help at that point, but a New Yorker saw what I didn't see and stepped in to help. No wonder I love the city so much.
The trip home was quite uneventful. I made the train switch at 74th Street and boarded the 7 Train for Main Street, Flushing, with all the help I needed. As I walked the several blocks back to St. Michael's Parish, my heart was filled to overflowing with praise of God for His wonderful gift of people and white canes. In the eight hours or so of my adventure I hadn't known the feelings of fear, worry, or anxiety for one single moment. My day off had been a real day of renewal, rest, relaxation, and peace for me. It had been a day of adventure, of fun, a happy day.
As I went to bed that September night there was one thought that lingered with the memory lane adventure. I couldn't count the number of times I had traveled the subways and buses and taxis in those half dozen years when I myself was a New Yorker. How much more fantastic it would have been, I mused, had I used the white cane even back then. Blindness for me was not seeing enough. Perhaps I made myself see too much, too much to need my fellow New Yorkers' help. Twenty-five years ago my tunnel vision often reminded me, with pain and frustration and embarrassment, that I was blind. Today my white cane told those around me that I was blind and brought me their sight.
When God wished to come as our Messiah, our Savior, our Lord, our King, He came as an infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. He came needing us, His creatures, and He did not hide His need. He had to be fed, nursed, diapered, bathed. He had to be taught to walk and talk. Do I still see too much to follow that little child who shall lead them? This Christmas I pray that that little child, with all of His needing, will touch your hearts and lead you to the joy and peace of oneness in His family.
A very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Holy New Year to you and yours from all of us here at Ave Maria Place.--Father Pat **********