I had been working in doors all day and decided to go out for a walk around 6 PM. It was an odd decision, given that the weather service had all day been predicting heavy showers around that time. The sky was full of gray, low hanging clouds, yet I picked up my umbrella and strolled out.
I took my usual route which typically leads me up Regents Park Road in Primrose Hill. I wasn't quite sure where I was going. Usually, I make my way to a restaurant, a coffee shop, or a newspaper agent, depending on the hour of day. This time, once I reached the park, I turned around and started going downhill in the direction I had come from.
It had started raining and within seconds the sky managed to release a deluge. It seemed a good idea to seek the shelter of one of the pubs I frequented in the area but for some odd reason I decided to continue on back to the apartment I was staying at.
Once I was close to Chalk Farm tube station, I saw a blind man trying to make his way under the heavy rain. He was wearing a navy blue suit with faint stripes, a tie, and a dark blue shirt. His hair was white and he gave the impression of being in his fifties. His blindness was of the kind that caused his eyes to stay shut all the time and he was banging the sidewalk nervously with his white cane, while his other hand clutched a charcoal laptop cloth bag. Water was pouring all over his face and clothes.
I ran after him and, walking to the left of him, and asked if he could use some help as well as an umbrella over his head. He immediately grabbed my right elbow and thanked me and asked if I was the mailman. I said no but that I was staying with friends nearby and would be happy to walk him home.
We walked slowly and he said that he worked in Holborn and takes this route every day. He said how grateful he was that I came along as he would have been drenched, which, indeed, he was a short way from being.
What struck me about the blind man as I approached him with my offer of assistance was not that he was getting wet. Rather, the half frown, half confused look on his face which gave the impression of someone who was lost on familiar ground. The heavy rain and thunder seemed to have dulled the senses that a blind man would rely on for direction in drier circumstances. He was straining to hear the sound of his own footsteps and cane on the pavement, which, during a normal day, no doubt, had a familiar echo, depending on where he was in relation to his apartment building. He could no longer use his nose to identify routine smells along the way. Even reaching out with his hand to feel a certain brick wall would have been difficult and slippery.
I was grateful for that blind man in the rain, probably more than he was for my presence. I had left the apartment I was staying at angry at some work and other developments in my life. The blind man reminded me that even when faced with such adversity as blindness, there is room for optimism; he could still find a job, work everyday and commute back and forth to his office.
The blind man also reminded me that sometimes we do not understand the reasons for our actions at first, and all we have to go with is a gut feeling; an instinct of sorts. I certainly did not know why I was leaving the apartment at that time in that kind of weather. I had no specific place to be at. I could have sat on the couch and watched the evening news. But, I found myself helping a blind man walk from the tube station to his apartment building and realized afterwards that we do not need to understand everything fully from the start; sometimes the reasons for our actions become clear at the ends of our journeys.
But most of all, the blind man reminded me that we all go blind once in a while in this life, even while walking on familiar ground, heading home. And we all need someone to reach out to us every now and then and ask if we need help or a shelter over our heads until the storm is over.
I know that the blind man would never have stood in the rain asking for help; he would have tried and tried and tried until he made it to his apartment building. And he would have suffered needlessly in the process. He is too proud to do otherwise. So are you and me.