While walking home a few nights ago, I got lost. This would have been okay, but I was traveling a route I know intimately; I’d used that route for almost three years without mishap. That might have been okay too, except that it was -25C outside and, since it is supposed to be a two-minute walk, all I had was a pair of woefully inadequate mittens and a winter jacket. I still don’t know exactly where I went wrong. I was navigating the crosswalk, the same as usual, and I must have veered sharply, because I missed the sidewalk entirely and ended up wandering into relatively unfamiliar territory. It was nearly one in the morning, so there was no traffic to act as an auditory guide. It was one in the morning, so I couldn’t even use what little vision I have to help me. It was one in the morning, so I was totally alone.
It was bitterly cold—so cold that even I, a brave little Canadian, had to admit I was getting a little anxious. I took off my mittens to use my phone. My fingers were so cold that the phone didn’t even register my touch. I had to use Siri to call a nearby friend so she could rescue me. Meanwhile, I was trying to find a safe place to stand. I settled for a precarious perch on an ice-encrusted snowbank, reasoning that this, at least, would be traffic-free should any traffic actually show up. Luck smiled on me that night, so my friend said she was coming to get me. I waited. And shivered. And wondered what in hell I’d done to get myself so lost in such a short amount of time. And I worried.
It took my poor friend a while to find me, so I had ample time for reflection. Before long, unwelcome tears were emerging, freezing as quickly as they materialized, naturally. I had grown complacent, I realized. I had failed to bring a backpack containing warmer clothes and some headgear. I had already spent a lot of time that evening walking around outdoors, so was pretty chilly to begin with. I didn’t count on getting lost. I thought I was infallible, with this route at least. Maybe, I thought grudgingly, there was a lesson here.
There are, of course, some obvious lessons: don’t go out in dangerously frigid temperatures without carrying extra clothing. Don’t count on having help so late at night if something happens. Invest in a pair of gloves that can be used with a touch screen, perhaps. The most uncomfortable lesson, though, is don’t ever, ever grow complacent.
Confidence is fine. We all deserve to take a few things for granted, particularly routes we’ve been navigating for years without a single serious misstep. Sighted people don’t have quite the same worries as we do when they get lost, so it’s comforting when we can enjoy that level of assurance, at least in certain locations. Nine times out of ten, everything will go as well as you hope it will.
But be prepared for the times when it doesn’t. Know that, sometimes, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Know that the climate may not always be kind. Know that people may not be around to assist. Know that you are not perfect, and that you can always make mistakes you never even imagined. Confidence is your friend; complacency, your enemy.
Many of you are likely shaking your heads: “Getting lost is not that bad, Meagan! It’s not a life or death situation!” You’re right, usually it isn’t. Most of the time, if we get lost, we wander around until we find a landmark to get us back on track. We approach someone and ask for help. We use our orientation skills to figure out where we went wrong so we can backtrack. When all that fails, however, (and it will fail), you’re left with unpleasant consequences like frostbite, dangerous neighbourhoods, and unexpected hazards or obstacles. Worst of all, though, you run the risk of becoming even more thoroughly lost. I have wandered through sketchy neighbourhoods after 11:00 p.m. and I don’t recommend it. I think my blood alcohol level rose just from being in the vicinity of some of those people.
By all means, take precautions. I chose not to do so and I paid dearly for my negligence. Next time, I might not have a friend I can call at a moment’s notice. I’ve been hopelessly lost before in nasty weather, and it never gets easier with time, I can promise that. What I’ve come to realize, though, is that more than precautions, an attitude adjustment is sometimes most valuable. Tempting as it may be, autopilot is never really an option—not when you’re blind. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking with a group of sighted friends; they can get lost, too. It doesn’t matter if you have a guide dog; you’re supposed to lead them, not the other way around. It doesn’t even matter if you know this route inside out and backwards. You’re not invincible. None of us is.
For as many years as you are on this earth, you will discover new and interesting ways in which you can screw up. Learn to accept this. It’s an unavoidable part of being human, and unfortunately for disabled people, the consequences are especially dire. But for every bonehead mistake you make, there is a lesson. As they say, life is a harsh teacher, but an effective one.
Safe travels, guys.