Everyone seems to hold some fear of the unknown, whether this materializes in fearing the unknown future, the unknown feelings in a relationship, the unknown “mystery meat” in Vietnamese street vendors, the unknown outcomes of taking a risk, the unknown chances at succeeding in something new. We tend to fear what we cannot see, what we cannot measure and what we cannot guarantee and tend to spend more time waiting for the unknown to reveal its true inner content rather than uncovering it for ourselves.
After a surprisingly wonderful Saturday morning of teaching this past weekend, instead of opting for a superman dive into my bed for a nap before my next set of classes, I was energized and decided spend the afternoon helping some local visually impaired children practice their swimming skills. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I have never really worked with the blind before and at first found myself somewhat nervous and uncomfortable in interacting with people who couldn’t see me or experience their surroundings and thus react to the same environment that I was interacting in.
However, as I watched them get off the bus, some of them walking with aids and some sauntering along confidently by themselves, I traced not an once of hesitation or fear among them. Big smiles were spread eagerly across their faces in anticipation of relieving the humid air off their backs with a cold wave of water. Water, being such a strange and unusual substance, is one of the things that has always instilled a little fear in me. In the ocean, I hardly ever go past my hips, I never swim laps, and good luck trying to get me into a sailboat. Well put simply, I have a rather uncommon fear of water.
These kids, unlike me, confidently embraced what they could not see. To them, the water was a new environment to be explored and challenged – felt and experienced rather than feared. I helped one boy swim back forth over and over again, and although he was shaking from head to toe from the cold pool (yes it is possible to get cold in Vietnam) he wouldn’t get out of the water. He was mesmerized by the constant meditative flow of parting the water with his hands. Around him, kids were laughing, screaming, and splashing enjoying the shared experience of friends and swimming on a Saturday afternoon.
I always viewed seeing as something that can only be done with the eyes, however, these kids demonstrated the importance of seeing with your hands, your voice, and most importantly – your instinct. These kids, trusting themselves and those around them, are more confident and aware of their environment than most of us visual folks. Blindness, in truth, is really the inability to see your own fears and challenge them.