I am sitting in a coffee shop. I’m in the upstairs loft area. I’m immediately curious about the person sitting in front of me, along with her companion. It’s a young woman with a black lab dog lounging next to her feet, exactly the same way my Millie dog used to. His toenails drag noisily on the hardwoods as he stretches, eyeing the floor for errant crumbs. The woman’s back is to me and I can’t tell much about her except that she’s a trendy dresser with long blond hair and that she looks to be in her early 20’s. I wonder if her dog is a service animal or just a favor for a pretty girl who felt like bringing her pet into a coffee shop.
After a bit, she gets up to leave. Her fingers search the table gingerly for her things. She speaks quietly to her dog and he rises. She gathers her laptop and jacket and, as she turns, I can see now that she is indeed blind. Her eyes are closed. She attaches a lead to the dog and they start walking. He takes her down the row of tables toward the stairs but, instead of leading her to the stairway to leave, he turns right again and heads down the next row of tables, leading her in the opposite direction – back to where she started. It’s then a young man approaches and asks if she needs help finding the stairway. She replies, unfazed and smiling “sure”. The man takes her elbow and leads her to the stairs, watching carefully, hesitantly… worried as we all seem to be, that she’ll miss that first step and tumble down. In that moment, it feels like there are a hundred hands circling around her, prepared to catch her should she misstep.
She doesn’t. She and her dog make their way down the stairs and disappear into the world.
For some reason, this event cuts me to the core… I feel my throat tightening. I blink back tears, feeling the shame of my emotions in this public place creeping hotly around my neck. I’m left to untangle this sudden surge that’s come over me.
Am I disgusted at myself for not rushing to help her?
Do I feel sadness and sympathy for a young woman who will never see leaves lavishly painted by the sunset, the wondering gaze of a newborn, the very face that stares back in a mirror?
Am I inspired by the boldness and humanity of the young man who didn’t hesitate with a self-conscious thought, but immediately sought to help a stranger?
Am I awed by her courage and ability to adapt to an unseen world?
Am I moved by the loyal, humble service of a dog?
Yes. All of the above. In this moment, although distant – an onlooker, I am connected. By conviction, curiosity, compassion, awe… I am connected because we are all broken and we are all needy and we are all needed. In the blink of an eye, all of our pretenses and illusions and facades can be stripped bare. And there were are. Just people, no better and no worse, no different really, despite our protestations.
And our fame and our money and our labels and our color… None of it is relevant.
I still struggle to put words to my emotions in this moment, let alone extract a definable summary or lesson. Just that sometimes, in the middle of an afternoon coffee, you get a beautiful little glimpse of humanity – the kind of raw truth we usually avert our eyes from because it makes us uncomfortable. It forces us to think about our own humanness and culpability in this world where we live amongst our sisters and brothers. But when we do glimpse this holy grail, we find that it’s not scary… or ugly… or even debatable. It is real and that is the most beautiful thing of all.