I have not always loved my white cane. I’m twenty eight now and don’t like to be out of the house without my cane, even if I’m not using it. It gives me a sense of security and independence that I really don’t like to be without. But it was not always that way. Not at all.
When I was a little girl, I hated my cane. It was “useless!” “Stupid!” “So annoying!” It was, in my young eyes, the symbol of everything that made me different.
My teachers tried to get me to like it. They used every tactic they could think of. They tried forcing me to use it. They tried introducing me to other people who were cane users. They tried suggesting I decorate it with stickers to make it seem more fun. But I saw through all their little tricks.
When I was in about the fifth grade, my TVI tried a new idea. “Why don’t you name it?” she suggested. “How about Candy Cane? Or Sugar Cane?” “No way,” I said. “I don’t like those names. I’ll name it Hurra.”
“Yeah. Hurra. Like Hurricane. Then everyone will know how bad it is.”
My cane was the object of my anxiety, my frustration, my all-out embarrassment about being blatantly, conspicuously blind. When I walked down the hallway in middle school and another student yelled “Here comes the girl with the stick!” I blamed my cane. When a little girl at the mall asked me about my cane and her mother dragged her away in fear before I had a chance to answer, I blamed my cane. If I didn’t have to use this thing, people would be nicer. It was the cane’s fault, plain and simple.
But things began to change as I grew. Slowly, very slowly, I began to realize that my cane actually helped me. I began to pay attention to things that happened when I went out and chose to leave my cane at home. In line at the grocery store with my mom when I was a teenager, the woman at the register said to me, “Your eyes are weird. Are you cross-eyed or just daydreaming?”
“Um, I’m blind.”
Another time when at a store with a friend, the cashier tried to give me change for the purchase I had made. She didn’t know I couldn’t see her. She stood there with the change in her hand, waiting. I stood there with my hand out, waiting. It was awkward and uncomfortable and I left feeling frustrated with her and with myself.
Little moments like these made me realize how helpful my cane was, even just for identification purposes.
When I was about sixteen, a few friends and I went to a show in our high school auditorium. When the show was over, I turned to find my friends, to look for an elbow to hold on to as we walked out. But no one was there. My friends had left, and our row of seats was completely empty. Anxiety caught in my throat. I was confused. It was dark and the sounds of teenagers squealing and chatting echoed around me, making me disoriented and unsure where to go. This was my high school, the building I spent tons of time in and thought I knew like the back of my hand. But somehow, the dark and the noise and my own emotions made it all seem a lot harder.
That evening may have been the first time I was grateful that my parents made me bring my cane along. I reached under my chair, unfolded it, and began to find my way down the row, up the steps and out of the auditorium. I navigated through the hallway in a sea of unfamiliar teenagers to the entrance, and then went out to the parking lot to wait for my ride.
At the time I was too caught up in the teenage social implications of my friends leaving without me to think about the situation in any other way. But although I didn’t realize it then, that evening was a little step I took toward finding independence with my white cane.
I’m not sure how I went from begrudgingly using my cane only when it was necessary to having two well-worn canes hanging right by the door on my coat rack at home. I think I started liking myself a bit more. I think I started finding confidence in the ability to get around without holding onto someone else’s arm. I think I stopped blaming my cane for the ignorance and fear I met with in the world, and instead began to think that maybe, just maybe, using my cane confidently could help to break down some of that ignorance and fear. And I think it has. Confidence seems to breed open-mindedness and acceptance, and when I am not anxious about my cane, others seem less anxious as well.
Now I walk my children to daycare in the mornings and my two-year-old yells out, “Don’t forget the cane, Mommy!” Before I get a chance to grab it, he unfolds the cane and starts to walk around the house, swinging it back and forth across the floor. In these moments I feel pride. I feel awe. I feel glad that I have not chosen to hide my cane from my life, glad that I have taught my children that this is what is natural and good. I am glad that my son is already grasping that the cane is a necessary part of our day, to get us where we need to go safely. I am touched that he wants to emulate my behavior, by doing the one thing that has dredged up so many different feelings for me over the years. I admit that on some days, those feelings of embarrassment or frustration still try to peek through. But they are won over by gratitude, by self-assurance, and by a sense of independence I will never trade.
Today my husband and I get ready to go run a few errands together. As I sling my purse over my shoulder, he passes me my cane.
“Here’s Hurra,” he says. And I grin.