It was a guide dog who put me in mind of the sidekick, the boon companion who accompanies you. Sometimes it can be a stranger.
Years ago in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, a man whose name I never learned helped me navigate through tunnels and talked to me about his daughter who was also blind. He was so proud of her. He’d come to America from North Africa because he felt she’d have a chance at an education and a career in this country. We walked through impossible labyrinths and talked about her life to come.
It didn’t take long for me to understand: I was his sidekick. Me, a blind college teacher with a golden dog. And it didn’t take long for me to know that my very confidence, my smile, my sense of belonging in the world were not mere inspirations but roadmaps. You see, the sidekick sometimes has the map.
This airport walk was an instance of three-way mutual sidekick-ism. My companion loved his life, loved his daughter’s life, and I showed satisfaction with mine. He didn’t mention his wife. I didn’t know how to bring it up. Perhaps it was none of my business. We were talking a triangular joy, one rich in multiple possibilities.
It’s not customary for the blind to have lots of opportunities to get ahead in this world. There’s luck involved no matter where you live. I’ll not make this a Disney story. Here in the USA, I know plenty of blind folks who have college degrees and cannot get jobs. I know that success is a dear commodity. But I know it can be had. There are blind professionals in every field in this nation. We aim high and we encourage others like us to aim high also.
Sidekicks are walking beside us as dust rises from the roads.
Once when I was training with my first guide dog a trainer named Rick helped me conquer my fear of falling down stairs.
Once when I was lost in Liverpool, England, a stranger kept me from being struck by, of all things, a cheese truck. (I didn’t have my guide dog on that trip…)
Once upon a time when I was near despair after a long period of unemployment, a job counselor told me something almost mystical—I could choose grief or freedom, it was my choice. A sidekick can give you some tough love when you need it.
Once I ran a marathon with my wife Connie who did all the watching.
Right now the world needs more sidekicks than ever.
Like the poet Emily Dickinson, we need to dwell in possibilities.
I’m not saying you can’t be depressed; not arguing that mind over matter makes things right; nor am I pushing the idea that the disabled should be inspirational. Don’t read me the wrong way.
Just remember that people you don’t know may have the right maps. Keep attentive.