If there’s one idea that I hear associated with blindness, and how blind people should live our lives, it’s “safe” or “careful.” I’ve either seen or experienced first-hand the idea that I or someone I know are not supposed to do something – fry hamburger, cross a street, have a baby – because we cannot see and cannot possibly complete the task independently or safely.
What seems to be lost in the shuffle is that blind people are not the only ones who do normal things unsafely, or do unsafe things, period. I’m married to a bus driver, and have myself heard scary stories about pedestrians and cyclists moving illegally in front of a bus or car. They might get a honk from a horn for their suicide mission, but unless they are seriously hurt, they are not likely to have drivers or fellow pedestrians shadow them. But because I am visually impaired, it seems that I – and others like me whose vision impairment is obvious – are open season for being followed, coddled, or otherwise told how to live by parents, relatives, and complete strangers. Sighted children generally slowly gain more independence as they get older, but I have seen many blind children, teenagers, and young adults never learn to cook a meal, travel on public transportation, or gain marketable skills for the work force, which makes learning those skills later in life – if the individual chooses to do so – so much more difficult and is a blow to the ego to boot.
Particularly in the past couple of years, I have begun to yo-yo back and forth on whether I appreciate being “safe”, if it means simply being comfortable and not taking reasonable risks. But no matter how safe and risk-averse we are, humans are not wrapped in bubble wrap or cotton. We will sometimes fall down stairs; we will make a terrible meal (I cannot for the life of me make grilled cheese – does that make me a bad blind person?); our hearts and souls will connect with someone – or several someones – and the relationships will strengthen us or break us wide open… and that is OK!
I have recently come to the decision that safety for its own sake is underrated – nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that – while recklessness is foolishness (texting while crossing a street? bad idea!). We cannot be protected from everything – those I know who have been so are unable to cope with the challenges of life that inevitably arise – but we can stumble and fall and make mistakes and laugh and cry with the fullness of life outside the theoretical bubble wrap which is supposed to protect us.
Oh, and those of you in “winter cities”… be careful on the ice!