Getting To Know You

I have always found it interesting the ways in which we become aware of those around us. I think especially among those who are blind, we are often not fully aware of the degree to which others watch, perhaps learn from, and become familiar with us from afar.

I especially noticed this this past week. I had to miss a day of work, because my left ear, the good one, decided to ring really loudly and make it difficult for me to function. This usually happens when we experience drastic swings in temperature, but for some odd reason it occurred on the day before said temperature changes took effect. It ended up being a plus, as it created an opportunity for me to go grocery shopping during the day. Less crowds, easier to get in and out, etc.

When I returned to work the next day, I was somewhat amused by the number of people who came up to say they’d noticed my absence and missed me. They knew my name, but I couldn’t really tell you who they were. In addition to my blindness, I am also atypically quiet in there. I’ll speak when spoken to, but generally I remain lost somewhere in my thoughts. I suppose this also explains how so many end up just getting to know me in a hands-off sort of way.

The phenomenon of knowing starts long before we even begin to speak. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in many of my twelve nieces and nephews’ upbringing, and was always amazed by how attached to me they became. They each seemed to have their own ways of preferred connection: one I could lure into a calm state by using a strap, another liked to listen to me whistle a tuneless melody as I walked him up and down the hall, and a third just needed to know I was in the same room as he was. This last one left me feeling like perhaps I could actually hypnotize him, as I could say “you’re getting sleeeepppy,” in that funny, dragged out voice and he would indeed quiet.

They would also, I believe, demonstrate that they knew I was unable to see them. Whether they thought this by choice or fully understood that my eyes didn’t work, who knows.

My niece, for example, would make a humming sound as her little legs propelled her along the floor and to me, until she was able to tap my leg.

And once, the strap-loving nephew decided I needed assistance into the laundry room to put my clothes into the hamper, and then back into my mom’s room where he knew I liked to watch sports with my dad. He may not have even been a year old then, and hadn’t really developed speech yet except for the ability to make a sound that approached “here”. Then he grabbed one of my fingers and led me around the house. I guess he’d seen enough of me nearly tripping over his and others’ toys. It was cute.

Even nonhuman animals are capable of getting to know from afar, of course. I think primarily of the little toy fox terrier that my sighted cousin had when he moved into our Charlotte apartment in 2008. I have never become as close to any living creature as I did her. Sad? Perhaps.

She especially enjoyed interacting with me when I sat in the big, comfortable swivel chair I had at my heavy oak computer desk. She’d tap her little head on the side, stand back a few inches, and watch me turn to face her so she could then leap into my lap. Then she’d lay there, picking her head up if I began to talk to her or demanding attention occasionally with her paws.

She most showed her understanding of my likely limitations once when I’d taken her out for relief. I guess I’d gotten lost in my thoughts, and she decided we’d go for a longer walk. She probably had tried to get my attention somehow, but I didn’t notice. Next thing I knew, we were on the other side of the street and behind that set of apartments.

“Look what you’ve done!” I yelled as I tugged on the leash. “Now how on earth am I gonna get back home?”

She then slipped through a narrow fence, causing her collar to pull hard and come off of her neck. Now if she’d done this with my sighted cousin in tow, she’d think “freedom!” and “game time!” and take off. However, she probably knew that I couldn’t catch her, so she sat down a couple of feet in front of me and waited for me to reattach the collar. Then, she got ready to cross the lot and, probably, correctly head for home. I didn’t fully trust that we could do this safely though, so I pulled back on the chain. I believed she then deferred to plan B, which was to find an apartment with a human inside that I could ask for help. I did this, and an old man who walked with a rather pronounced limp assisted us back to the right place.

I’d guess that getting to know one another, and discern likely motives, has significant survival advantages. And, of course it helps us get whatever it is that we want from another, as well as to give to others what they might enjoy. I’m not sure blind folk will ever be really good at fully understanding tendencies, since there’s so much we miss by lacking observational abilities at least from a visual standpoint. But, I certainly do pick up on and have an uncanny memory for voice, smell, and other odd quirks. Just something I’ve been pondering all week. How much do you pick up from others as you go about your day? Are you always watching as a new individual comes into a room? What about other kinds of sensory information.

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