I sat transfixed, fingers poised mid-sentence on the keys of my laptop, watching a man who appeared to be foraging around in the foliage outside our building’s west entrance. I wouldn’t have noticed him at all, but I had looked up, giving my eyes a stretch by gazing across the lobby through the large, double-paned picture window facing the street.
My job was communications administrator. It was a new position, and I had only been at Community House for three months. Part-time hours meant little money, but the work was inspiring. I could barely pay my bills, but classes of small children routinely walked by my office, some not even two years old, smiling and waving. What could be more fun than that?
The center was in an impoverished, crime-prone area, which was a little worrisome. Things were hard at this point in my life, but at least I was doing something meaningful. I had been sitting at my desk composing copy for our new web site, absorbed, when I saw him.
He moved in a manner that seemed odd. What was he doing? Picking up garbage? I rolled my chair, got up and walked toward the window. Neatly dressed in faded blue jeans and a light jacket, he had a handsome, lined brown face, and he was clean shaven except for a meticulous salt and pepper goatee and sunglasses. I could see a black leather strap on the stick he maneuvered back and forth.
I gasped. The stick! It was white with a black handle. The man was blind! He had obviously lost his way trying to find the entrance!
My heart thumped and he tap, tap, tapped on the wall.
The memo! It had been distributed weeks earlier about the dangers of answering when someone buzzed the bell. “Ask what they want before opening,” the written warning had come from the executive director. Apparently, there had been an incident where an unknowing staff member opened the door and was promptly robbed by gun point. “If you are unsure, do not open.” Once, before I knew about the risk, I opened the door to a large, innocent looking woman.
She walked right in, turned to me and said, “What do you do in this building?”
It was obvious she suffered from some unseen torment. Fortunately, a program flyer was all it took for this poor soul to be on her way.
Now I stood there ringing my hands. A split second passed when Alvar our maintenance director came up the stairs. “Oh Alvar,” I said, can you help? Look at this man!” I motioned to the window. A tiny trickle of doubt began to permeate. What if Alvar hired the man to pick up garbage? What if the stick was only a device used to pierce candy wrappers or Styrofoam? Was the white girl being dramatic?
“Oh my gosh,” Alvar said, springing toward the door, “this man is blind!”
We walked outside and Alvar spoke. “Can I help you sir?” The man turned toward the sound of Alvar’s voice.“I’m trying to find Community House,” he said, patiently. “I’d like to get some enrollment information for the teen program.”
“You are here,” Alvar said, gently leading the man inside. “You missed the doorway by a foot or two.” He looked at me. “Lydia, are you able to take this gentleman to the east lobby reception area and see that he gets the applications?”
“Yes,” I said, and linked my arm with his, the gentleman with the white cane.
I steered us toward the door. As we walked, I talked.
“We’re going to pass through a double door, then all the way down this corridor to the other reception desk,” I told him. The man seemed tense, but why wouldn’t he? A stranger had him by the arm.
“I want my nephew to come to Community House” he said. “I came here when I was a kid and it changed my life.” He mentioned the names of staff members he had loved and talked about field trips and games.
We gathered the forms he needed, and I walked him to the door.
“Thank you,” he said and away he went, tap, tap, tap.
I walked back to my office, happy and grateful to have not lost sight about what’s important.