by Larry P. Johnson
(Reprinted from "The San Antonio Express-News," Nov. 28, 2013.)
Sometimes when people ask me, "May I help you?" I say yes, even though I don't need the help. I accept their help for two reasons. First, because it lets me teach them how to help a blind person. For example, if they are offering to guide me, I can show them that it's much better to let me take their arm and follow rather than their grabbing my arm and pushing me ahead. Second, it makes them feel good to be of use to someone. And we all like to feel useful.
Some people need more help, like small children, seniors, people who are sick or injured and people with disabilities. As a blind person, I have appreciated and benefited immensely from the help of people all of my life. During my school years, I received literally thousands of hours of help from fellow students and volunteers offering to read my assignments and textbooks to me. And, throughout my adult life, I have continued to receive invaluable assistance from people — family, friends, neighbors, strangers — volunteering to help with all manner of things like transportation, recreation, shopping, reading print material, studying for a professional certification exam, or serving as a sighted guides.
There is the myth that people who are blind are totally dependent or helpless, that we can do very little by ourselves, that we need constant help. The truth is that we can and want very much to help others.
Several years ago I was waiting in front of the Bexar County Courthouse for my transportation. I'd just come out of a meeting and was wearing a suit and tie. A female voice spoke to me: "Do you know how to tie a tie?"
I was somewhat annoyed by her question. Was she doubting my abilities because I was blind? "Yes," I said, a little sternly.
"Could you tie my husband's tie?"
What? Was this some kind of trick? We hear a lot about instances where unsuspecting good Samaritans are lured into situations by con artists. I felt a bit apprehensive. Still, it was broad daylight and I could hear lots of people passing by on the sidewalk. "Sure, where is he?"
"Over here." She guided me by the arm a short distance and placed my hand on the shoulder of a man wearing a suit coat. I slid my hand around to the front of his collar. A tie was hanging from his neck tied in a square knot. "No, this is not right," I said.
"I didn't know how to do it," she replied apologetically.
"Let me show you." I untied the tie and slowly tied it again in a Windsor knot, explaining each motion as I did so.
"Thank you," the man said.
"Yes, thank you," she repeated. And then she added, "We are going inside to get married and I wanted him to look nice."
Suddenly I felt a wave of embarrassment and remorse. I had been so suspicious, so reluctant to do such a small thing to help this young couple. "Congratulations," I said as I hugged them both. It was such a joy to be of help.
No one is completely independent or self-sufficient. We all rely on each other. I am grateful to the people who have helped me when I have needed it, and equally grateful to those who have given me the opportunities to be of help to others. Helping one another is, without a doubt, not only important to our self-esteem but a vital component to the economic life and social welfare of our human society. And that's how I see it.