I have this wonderful new friend named Alison. She is the kind of person who tells it like it is; and with just a few words, she can literally stop me in my tracks. Iíve learned more from her in the short time that Iíve known her than I take the time to learn from most of my lifelong friends. She has taught me everything from how not to take things for granted to how to laugh at myself. She isnít afraid to dive right in and try new things, and lets nothing stand in the way if her mind is made up to do something.
Alison is a lot like my own kids, who are now wonderful adults. They are young, single, and trying to figure out what paths to take next in their lives. They have big questions, and have figured out that the answers must be discovered within them. They are beginning to grasp that they are much tougher than they ever realized.
There is one small difference, however.
Alison is totally blind, and has been her entire life. But, she would never let her blindness define her. As a matter of fact, what defines her is the way she has overcome it.
The more I get to know her, the more she makes me stop and think. One time, we were discussing clouds, when it dawned on me that she had never seen them. The harder I tried to describe them, the more I realized that my words most likely meant nothing to her.
The sky is blue, but what is blue? The clouds are white and fluffy, but what does that mean? They float across the sky like they are in a hurry to get somewhere. The sun peeks out from time to time and you can see the rays reaching all the way down to the earth, almost as if you could reach out and touch them.
My descriptive words meant nothing to her since she had never seen it before. Of course, that doesnít stop me from weak attempts to portray our surroundings for her, but I have yet to figure out how to describe a color without using other colors.
Now I understand that old line to the song, ĎIf a pictureís worth a thousand wordsÖí because if the truth is known, no amount of words can replace the pictures that Alison hasnít seen. But that wonít stop her from enjoying the beautiful world around her. She can still feel the breeze, or the sun shining on her face, or the rain on her skin.
Alison tells me stories of calling a cab and then waiting outside for two hours for its arrival. When she called back, she was told that the cab driver had been circling the parking lot, and saw Alison standing against the wall, but didnít realize she was blind and couldnít see the cab.
Nashville has a program called AccessRide, which will transport Alison just about anywhere she needs to go. This works well for her, as long as she stays within the parameters, which require her to make an appointment at least 24 hours in advance, and then she is given a window in which they will arrive. This usually means that she is very early, or very late; neither of which she has any control.
Alison has applied for a Seeing Eye dog. Her first application was denied, as they told her that she needed to improve her Ďcrossing the streetí skills before she could give commands to a dog. She has worked nonstop to improve in this area, even though the streets in her neighborhood are quite busy. She will try again next year, and Iím sure she will be bringing home a dog meant just for her very soon.
As I think of all she does, I continue to be amazed by the things I do with ease every day. Though simple to me, they become more difficult in her situation, but you never hear her complain. To do laundry, she has to go downstairs in her apartments. With a smirk, she admits to washing all of her clothes together, but what twenty-something person doesnít? She says she cleans only when she knows she will have company. Not only does that sound familiar, it causes me to marvel at how she can clean when she canít see the dirt.
She is a whiz with her cell phone and computer. Though she has a feature on both that read her messages out loud to her, the keyboards are regular keyboards and she types much faster than I do. She multi-tasks like no one Iíve ever met, and gets very excited when she receives a message from someone.
She attends college, and has an instructor that helps her at the beginning of the year to find the best path from class to class, as well as where to meet the bus and more importantly, where the vending machines can be found. She isnít sure what she wants to do with her life, but longs to work where she has lots of contact with people.
When we are together, Alison gently holds my elbow and lets me lead her. I am still learning to do this well, as I steer her around the obstacles in our path. I finally recognized that she doesnít know when we have a lot of room to get by, and when we need to squeeze it in a little. Sometimes, we now even bump into people just for fun.
I hope my Alison stories continue forever, but this is the most valuable lesson Iíve learned so far.
Alison has no choice but to find someone who knows where they are going and to follow them as closely as possible.
I would give this same advice to my own kids, and anyone else who is willing to listen.
God places people in our lives to help steer us in the right direction. We would all end up in a better place if we would find those people headed where we want to be, and hold on for dear life.