Meet Courage with Courage

I was seated with my husband at a gate in the Des Moines airport waiting for a flight when an airline representative guided a blind man to take the seat beside me. The representative made sure the man had what he needed and then left.

The man’s head never dipped as he rearranged his belongings by feel, leaving me with the impression that he had no sight at all. I was, and remain, astonished and awed at the blind traveller’s courage to enter, without a dedicated guide, into a system I’ve witnessed disintegrate into uncaring chaos all too often. I couldn’t image mustering the faith and courage to travel alone if I could not see.More people arrived at the gate, including the gate agents who got busy with their paperwork and answering the questions of people who approached their desk. The time to depart arrived and the flight was called with the usual request for people who needed assistance to board first.  The blind man immediate stood up. The gate agents diligently processed the passengers who approached the doorway, unaware of the blind gentleman standing off to the side.  A part of me panicked when I realized no one was coming to assist him. Uncertain what else to do, I stood up and asked if I could help him.  He kindly suggested that I position myself on his right so that he could use my left arm as a guide.

My brain slowly caught up with my feet as I took stock of the situation I had just created for myself.  I called over to my husband to give me my boarding pass as the blind man and I approached the entrance to the gate. “Don’t you work for the airline?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “I’m just a passenger.”  That was all I could think to say.  The rest of my brain was in overdrive trying to figure out what I was supposed to do as we strode down the jet way together.  Terrain, my brain said.  Tell him what to expect. I frantically shifted through my vocabulary before finally finding some words to describe how the grading of the floor was changing.

“Tell me when to duck,” he said.  Duck? Duck? What was he talking about? Duck? Then I realized he was much taller than I am.  He would definitely have to duck to get into the small airplane we were quickly approaching. I was grateful for his patient assistance as he guided me through guiding him. He bent over just the right amount when I let him know we were approaching the door. He didn’t even graze my protective hand over his head.

The flight attendants who greeted us assisted the gentleman in finding his seat. I asked them to ensure that he received the assistance he would need when we landed. They were clearly puzzled to discover that I wasn’t traveling with the man I’d guided onto the plane. I didn’t explain.  I didn’t have the presence to say I was moved by the man’s courage. I wanted him to continue to claim his freedom to travel and be independent. I wanted him to keep his faith that the world would rise up to meet him when he stepped forward. I just headed to my seat.

I believe that courage inspires courage. I got access to more of my own courage by responding to the courage of my fellow traveller. I believe that the world would be a very different place if more people had the courage to meet courage with courage of their own.

It’s the small risks we take that allow us to push past our comfort zones into new territory.  Like responding with respectful honesty when asked an important question, or chiming in with support when someone takes the risk of saying what everyone is silently thinking, or offering an idea that seems a bit out there.

There are moments that open, sometimes suddenly, like doorways into new ways of thinking and being.  You may have a split second to decide if you go through or not. It’s our willingness to cease the moment and stand up for what’s possible that turns good intentions into new realities.

Imagine what we could do together if we stood up to meet the courage we find standing right beside us.

Dianna Anderson, MCC
CEO, Cylient


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