On Meeting Darnell, Who is Blind and Takes the Stairs Two at a Time
On my way to work yesterday, I was heading towards a flight of stairs that connects the Blue Line to the street level. A few feet in front of me, I spotted a man who was blind making his way towards the stairs – tapping along with his white cane.
In the rush of the morning commute, there naturally were lots of people about – and several folks passed by him on his left side. When the man arrived at the bottom of the stairs, I saw him pick up his cane off the ground. And then the most extraordinary thing happened:
I saw him run up the stairs, two at a time.
That small moment took my breath away. Seeing that man move with such speed and determination, it nearly stopped me in my tracks. I’m not sure how best to describe it, but… on watching him go up the stairs, it filled me with a sense of bravery and confidence. In that small space of time, all the worries and fears I carry with me, day to day, seemed to fall away and become inconsequential.
When I reached the street, I found that he and I shared a similar walk from the Blue Line. My first thought was that maybe he wasn’t totally blind. But watching him bump a bit into the construction scaffolding on the street, it seemed pretty clear that he was without sight.
Near the corner of State and Madison, I tapped him on the shoulder and rather awkwardly introduced myself. I learned that his name was Darnell. And when I told him how I felt seeing him bound up the stairs, he simply replied: It’s good exercise.
After talking a bit about my blog, Darnell was kind enough to indulge me when I asked to take his photograph. I also learned he was potentially interested in starting up his own blog, so we ended up exchanging numbers before parting ways.
I found myself reflecting on this encounter a great deal, throughout the day. Interestingly enough, I was just reading a post by Aaron Swartz on the ride in, and I think his words were definitely influencing how I felt as well.
Seeing Darnell bound up the stairs filled me with a sense of fearlessness. I tried to imagine myself without sight, and all the challenges and struggles that would come along with it. It seemed like a paralyzing thing, and my immediate impulse would be to become more cautious, more timid. I don’t know that I would be as bold as Darnell, moving so quickly and with such confidence.
If taking two steps at a time is how Darnell greets his days, who am I to be afraid of things? My fears and concerns seemed more trivial, by comparison. If Darnell is literally running towards the beginning of his days, what am I doing with my time? Am I moving with purpose and excitement towards what awaits me, or am I dreading the walk?
My encounter with Darnell was a quick and fleeting thing. But it’s one of those small moments that I think will stay with me, for a long while to come.
It’s all well and good to take things one day at a time. But when it comes to stairs? Consider two.