Today I witnessed a heartbreaking scene. Arriving late to the bus stop, hot and out of breath, I came suddenly to a halt behind the man before me, who was standing to rigid attention like a soldier, in dark shades. This image of power was subverted by the tapping sound of his cane, seeking the doorway of the bus.
The elevated platform found, the gap navigated by feel, he stepped up bravely into the bus and forcefully slammed his face into the metal bar that divides the doorway. His glasses clattered to the gutter and he immediately crouched, his face caught between a self-effacing smile and a grimace of pain. The bus driver’s face was the ironic mask of the helplessness that is induced by the helplessness of another.
I picked up the man’s glasses, halting his unknowing search with a brush on the arm. As he inclined his head towards me, I noticed his eyes were held tightly shut, as though he kept all his secrets behind them. Slowly he found his way into the bus, to a seat at the front quickly vacated by a young girl with eager sympathetic eyes.
The poignancy of the situation struck me at first, accentuated by the sound of the clang as his head collided with the metal bar, still ringing in my mind’s ear; how something ordinarily hilarious became, through a simple twist, incredibly tragic. He was clearly new to being blind, awkwardly discovering a new universe in which he was utterly powerless and beset by obstacles invisible to the seeing person. He must still remember the joys of sight so keenly, I thought, that depression must surely loom over him every day. Yet here he was, ploughing into poles so that he could learn to be blind and not be helpless, unable to do something as simple as catch a bus. I wanted to help him, to be his friend and make sure that he got to wherever he was going; my heart went out to this unfortunate man.
But this led me to reflect: surely others felt as I did, swept up in a noble desire to be of assistance? And I had helped already, in a small way, by handing him his glasses – and that girl had helped him by giving him her seat. And at his destination, I felt sure, someone would surely help him find his way to where he was going. He was after all endearing to people in the way that he quietly struggled, trying to shrug off his blindness even as it surely crippled him. He had a nice face and was well dressed, and he invited help without asking for it; he would make many friends, I felt sure, if he didn’t have them already. I was suddenly filled with a conviction that in spite of his problem, partly because of it, he would be just fine. My initial piercing sense of tragedy for this man faded, replaced with nothing but optimism. But the memory of that pang of empathy still troubled me with a question:
Who, if not the blind, really deserves our pity?
In the end, I can’t help but feel that it is more the people who are unafflicted by troubles that deserve our pity the most; the ones who can see, but don’t know where to look; the ones who inspire no sympathy yet suffer the burden of potential; the ones who, because of their mediocrity, have nobody to guide them and no defined path. I reserve my despair for them.