Robert Anderson - Non-Fiction

Make Way, Make Way!

by Robert Anderson

The Minnesota Twins had just won the 1987 World Series and crowds were beginning to mass along the motorcade route in downtown St. Paul. The radio reported that tens of thousands of jubilant fans were expected on this bright, crisp October afternoon to hail the conquering heroes, clad in mink and chinchilla, riding astride their Cadillacs and Continentals.

Not even a fair-weather baseball fan, and proud of it, I left work early to avoid the crush. My plan was to walk several blocks up the hill past the State Capitol to skirt the crowds and catch my bus, but I was too late. The sidewalks were already jammed and I soon found myself tapping my white stick through a dense thicket of humanity. I zigzagged and excused my way through, bumping into people, disentangling my cane from between their legs, shrinking from their muttered curses. I hadn’t a clue which way to turn; each move raised new obstacles, and there was barely room for me to swing my stick, much less for anyone to step aside.

I stalled, boxed in, my cane crushed against my chest, useless even as a signal for help. No one was paying attention in any case, with all eyes riveted on the street. This is no place for a blind man, I thought, and resigned myself to waiting it out.

“Can I help?" A hand touched my arm.

Ordinarily, I fiercely protect my hard-won independence, guarding it against those who would be too helpful, like the lady the other day who dragged me across an intersection I didn’t want to cross, mistaking my patient puzzling things out for fear and confusion. I had to be vigilant. Dependency was an ever -ready, always tempting trap, so easy to fall into, so hard to crawl out of. My stock response was instinctive, reflexive, sometimes verging on rudeness: “I can do this quite well myself, thank you very much!”

Not this time. "Yeah, I'm stuck… like totally."

The stranger, a raspy whisper on my right, began to steer me by the elbow, gently at first, but then more firmly. I stiffened, ready to bristle; I hated people moving me around like a piece of furniture. Sometimes they’d grab my hand like it belonged to them, and stick it on something, with no clue what it was, to show me what to do. They could explain it to me; I wasn’t that stupid or helpless. The stranger started to pull and push me by the arm, directing me toward thin spots in the crowd. Using his body as a buffer, his eyes as a guide, he eased us through the thicket… so slick and easy, like Moses parting the waters!

“Sorry, sorry” I muttered again and again, as we nudged past knees and feet, shoulders and hips, arms cradling purses and jackets, kids clutching legs and hands. He threaded us through the maze, with me holding my stick out in front of us like a divining rod.

"Make way for the blind man, make way for the blind man!" he shouted as he maneuvered us through the almost impenetrable mass. Proud and aloof, even in a pinch, I had to swallow my chagrin. When even he got stuck, he squeezed behind me and began shoving hard with both hands against the small of my back, thrusting my hips forward, pivoting them left and right with his fingertips, driving my trunk like a wedge through the crowd. Helpless on my own, what could I do?

I surrendered. I raised my cane and waved it aloft like a pennant. “Make way for the blind man, make way for the blind man!" I shouted above the din. With each advance, the crowd congealed around us like a sea of mud, sealing us in over and over again. This only made my helper drive all the harder. He twisted my body every which way, testing for resistance, then jammed it into every fissure and fault-line he could find. Inch by crawling inch, we slogged our way through.

“Make way for the blind man, make way for the blind man!” We were chanting in  chorus now, with me pumping my cane high in the air like a drum major. A curious conga line we made that clear October afternoon, my friend and I, as we snaked our way up the long avenue toward the Capitol. Far behind us we heard wave after wave of people cheering and applauding as the motorcade crept along the parade route. As we neared the crest of the hill, the crowd thinned and our pace quickened, till suddenly, with one final shove, I popped free to the other side, as cleanly expressed as a squeezed carbuncle.

Out in the open air at last, I turned to face my rescuer. "Thank you, thank you,” I gushed. “I could never have done it without you."

“No, no,” he said, taking my hand warmly. “Thank you! I've got a dentist's appointment in twenty minutes, and if I hurry, I can just make it." Laughing, we pumped hands like old friends, and went our separate ways.

With the sun shining down on my face, my cane tapping out its friendly patter on the sidewalk, I strolled to my bus stop, pondering this vaunted independence of mine. Certainly, it was essential to my survival as a blind man, but so were my rescuers. How many times had I been helped over the years, sometimes saved from near disaster by a hair, by strangers who’d risked embarrassment to step forward and offer aid when I’d been too proud, or too oblivious, to ask? They flashed before me, my rescuers, too many to count. I was a lucky, lucky man… or was the word “blessed”?

These and similar thoughts filled my mind as I walked along. What if I had it all wrong, this tidy picture of reality I carried around inside my head, with its fixed rules and boundaries, its careful calculus of give and get, win and lose, its stringent illusion of self-sufficiency? What if the universe operated by another set of rules entirely, a vision far more generous, boundless and reciprocal?

Maybe my dependency was a gift? These thoughts I pondered as I relaxed into the routine of the long, lazy ride home, lulled by the rocking rhythms of the bus, its stops and starts, the whoosh of doors opening and closing, the muffled chatter of nearby strangers.