Learn more about Eyes Wide Open at lidsky.com/book.
Worry becomes anxiety trending toward panic. I am lost. Blind, without a phone, wandering a deserted street, armed only with my cane, and lost. That tortuous Washington, DC, intersection threw me off, the spaghetti like jumble of streets, a perpendicular intersection superimposed on a curving road, adorned by another street slashing across at a random angle. I took a wrong turn exiting the maze of streets and sidewalks. Was that seven blocks ago or eight? How many turns have I made since then? I’ve lost track. My heart races. I am all alone and don’t know where I am.
I thought I could handle it. An early effort at blind independence, this walk was supposed to build confidence in my mobility skills. I left my house about an hour ago full of hope and optimism, forgetting my phone. There was a bounce in my step. Now I feel like a failure and a fool, panic rising. I’m frozen where I stand, muscles tense, jaw clenched.
Fear choreographs a troupe of obstructive emotions, making a circus of my thoughts. Embarrassment and Shame soar acrobatically, Sadness commands center ring with a pathetic clown act, Pride falls violently from a precarious perch and is rushed away. Mentally, I am drawn in. My world narrows, my focus zooms in tight. I think only awful thoughts, exaggerating my immediate predicament and cataloging implications for my life and future that are as dreadful as they are false. I am hopeless and helpless and will never regain my independence. Everything else is shut out. Fear is the master of ceremonies. It is masterful.
I find the curb with my cane’s tip, sit down, take several deep breaths, and concentrate on mentally zooming out. I begin with two simple questions: What, precisely, is my problem? What, precisely, can I do about it? Eyes wide open, I think it through.
It is around eleven on a beautiful spring Sunday morning. There is nowhere I need to be right now and nothing I need to be doing. My goal for the morning was humble and inconsequential, a stroll to procure coffee on my own. It took me fifteen minutes to walk from my Capitol Hill home to Eastern Market, where I bought a double espresso and enjoyed it while sitting in the sun listening to the newspaper on my new Victor Reader Stream, a handheld media player for the blind and visually impaired. I got lost on the way back. I can’t be more than ten minutes away from my house.
I’m on a small, empty residential street without pedestrians to rely upon for help, but it is safe. It is lined with row houses. Most of them contain their residents at the moment, it occurs to me, scenes of tranquility and Sunday-morning laziness. I can knock on a door or two, find a neighbor, ask to borrow a phone, call Dorothy to report my address, and wait for her to pick me up. I don’t have much of a problem after all.
It really is an exceptionally beautiful day, and I’m enjoying the weather again. I’m in no rush to ask Dorothy to rescue me, so I sit a while longer. I realize I don’t need to call her yet. Instead, once I roust a neighbor, I’ll ask for directions, not a phone, and I’ll make my own way. If I get lost again I can always knock on another door and call Dorothy then.
The weather is a delight. I’d rather not disturb a neighbor and suffer an awkward doorstep conversation, so I stay seated and think a bit more. My nemesis, the jumbled-up intersection, is always busy with cars and pedestrians. I’d easily find someone there who could help me recalibrate my route. Moments ago I swore I’d never again go near that absurdity of asphalt. Now I want to find my way back to it.
It is a silly excuse for an intersection, but it is always noisy. Always loud. I hop up and head back in the direction I came from, listening intently. After two or three blocks, I begin to hear the noise. My tormentor has become my guide. I follow my ears, pleased that I will ask a fellow pedestrian for help instead of knocking on a random door.
Along the way I review my mental map of the intersection. There are only two logical mistakes I could have made, one far more likely than the other. As I reach the scene of the epic disaster, I decide to test my hypothesis. I retrace my steps, taking the path dictated by my mental reenactment. It feels right—and I can always turn around and find a helpful pedestrian if it is not. No problem at all.
My pace has quickened and the bounce is back in my step as I reach a familiar landmark, a large crack in the sidewalk, confirmation that I’m back on track. A huge smile lights up my face. I feel like a hero, like Indiana Jones. I’m home in five minutes. I have loved that jumble of roads on Capitol Hill ever since.
I often think of it and my coffee run on that beautiful day. In a matter of minutes, my world turned upside down and back upright again, better than before. Unjustified as it was, my fear was no less real. I was terrified, consumed by ugly thoughts, helpless. I saw agonizing defeat and a dire emergency.
When I expanded my view and focused on the external realities of the situation, however, seeing beyond the distortions of my internal emotions, I confronted a minor practical problem. There was a simple solution, and with thought and proactivity, successively better ones emerged. Ultimately, I found great confidence in my ability to work through a challenge that had initially seemed so disastrous, and I gained new skills. Getting lost did far more for my independence than an uneventful trip would have. It turned out to be a good thing.
Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly
Learn more about Eyes Wide Open at lidsky.com/book.
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Isaac Lidsky is the author of EYES WIDE OPEN: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly. A former sitcom star, tech entrepreneur and Justice Department litigator, he is the CEO of ODC Construction, Florida’s largest residential construction services company. A dynamic speaker, Lidsky’s recent main stage TED Talk reached 1 million views in 20 days. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, he lives in Windermere, Florida with his wife and four children (triplets +1). Learn more at www.lidsky.com.
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This one is adapted from EYES WIDE OPEN: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly. Copyright © 2017 by Freshly Squeezed Citrus, LLC. Published by TarcherPerigee, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, on March 14, 2017.