by Sheila Koenig
From the Editor: Sheila Koenig is a blind teacher of sighted middle-school students in Minneapolis. She is lively and energetic and has many interests. One of them is testing the boundaries that are often assumed to come with being blind—traveling known routes, being accompanied by someone with sight when venturing to new places, and doing extensive planning before taking a trip. Here is Sheila's story about going beyond these boundaries in her quest for choice and spontaneity:
It began as a seed planted in my writing and Zen class. In talking about being attached to plans, Ted (the instructor) mused that, whenever we have road maps, we ought to throw them away. Thus began the thread of thoughts: I like getting lost. I like the adventure. I like the stories. I like bonding with my companion in our shared lostness. But, I wondered, what if I was alone? Would I still enjoy getting lost? Would I embrace adventure and novelty, or would I confine myself to my own comfort zone? I decided there was one way to find out.
Without a road map and by myself I ventured to Red Wing, Minnesota. Red Wing is a community of about 16,000 people located in the southeastern part of Minnesota along the Mississippi River. I chose it because I wanted to go to a small town, a community where I could hear stories and meet people. I simply wanted to follow where the moments led.
A few days before my trip, I discovered a new journaling app called Zentries. Each time the app is opened, a new quote appears. When I opened the app to journal the night before my trip, the quote read, “The lesson is letting go. The lesson is always letting go. Have you ever noticed how much of our agony is all tied up with craving and loss?” by Susan Gordon Lydon. We live in a society that clings to security and certainty. Though taking various forms, consciously or unconsciously, we grasp for things to steady us, for permanence. For me this quote was emblematic of my trip. I was letting go of expectations, letting go of plans, and letting go of the known.
The avenues of the trip were fascinating. In my first conversation with Lauren, the concierge at the St. James Hotel, I learned about a new bookstore. “I don't know why,” he said. “But you look like someone who loves books.” Amusedly I told him that I teach English. And I set out to find the bookstore. I learned about a sailing group in the Twin Cities, met a man considering a career change to education, met a kayak guide with a connection to the meditation center I attend, and learned about a science/art charter school in Napa, California. From my kayak guide I learned about a local bakery, and at the bakery I learned they made the crust for the pizza at the local brewery. The crust is outstanding!
My blindness mattered very little on this trip. I hired a driver to take me from Minneapolis to Red Wing. I knew that most of Red Wing could be accessed by foot, and I felt that part of embracing this journey was letting go of having all of the answers. Sometimes I think anticipating potential roadblocks can keep us from fully experiencing life. I could not have planned, for example, that Broken Paddle Guiding Company would offer to pick me up from my hotel because we were near the launch site of my kayak tour. I had kayaked only once before, on a small lake at a relative’s cabin, but I was determined to feed my sense of adventure without worrying about the details. As it turned out, I was the only tourist signed up for the tour. After a quick lesson on land of basic paddling strokes, I set out in my own kayak. My tour guide accompanied me in his. We paddled the backwaters of the Mississippi and navigated the flooded forest successfully. I did get tangled in some branches, but his directions guided me out of the tangle. We talked about turtles, education, and meditation. My blindness was never an issue for me or for those I encountered.
Looking back on this trip nearly half a year later, I marvel at the joys I found. I had no expectations or preconceptions. In throwing away the road map, I was able to be present with the moments that evolved along the way.