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Walking Blind

One of the joys of walking the Camino is meeting other pilgrims.

One encounter stands out.

The first-day Phyll and I walked the Camino, I noticed something odd - two pilgrims walking hand in hand, it seemed, the whole day.

At the end of the day, when I got closer, I realized they weren’t walking hand in hand; in fact, they were attached by a small length of clear plastic.

How unusual…

Two days later, when I met fellow pilgrim, Jan de Hoon, I discovered why. (Jan is pictured above.)

Jan co-founded a group named ‘Walking Blind,’ an organization that enables people with visual impairment to walk the Camino.

He has walked the Camino fourteen times, three times leading a group of visually impaired people.

Jan was full of optimism and possibilities.

He didn’t see his role as helping blind people, rather as accompanying them so that they could reach their full potential with dignity. (Hence the clear length of plastic, connecting a ‘buddy’ with a visually impaired person.)

What I saw suggested that Walking Blind enabled them to do more than that, to achieve potentials they had not dared to imagine.

I was captivated, inspired, and full of wonder.

The text from Luke ch. 4 came to mind, where Jesus proclaims that he has come to give sight to the blind.

This is not about magic; it’s about those so transfixed by the vision of life Jesus announced that walking a Camino with visually impaired people, for example, becomes compelling.

They see because people with vision journey closely, enabling them both to perceive and walk the Way. (The word ‘Camino’ means way.)

Apprised of this, I had to reassess my initial perception of ‘strange’ and ‘unusual.’

New visions are often strange until we take the time to find out more.

After the Camino, I met Jan by chance in Santiago. He told me that at a debriefing of his group one of the participants had said, “I’m beginning to like myself again.’

I understood this to mean that she had reclaimed her dignity because she had walked the Camino, not primarily as one who was helped but as a pilgrim.

It’s a compelling testimony.

It leads me to wonder about the way we often accept people’s self-limiting definitions – ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that,' ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I’m unable to’…

We join them in compassion and empathy. ‘We understand,’ we say. (Perhaps we fear to add any further burden to them.)

Sometimes that is the appropriate thing to do.

However, imagine the loss if those who hiked the Camino with Walking Blind had remained caught up in their initial sense of, ‘Oh, obviously, I couldn’t do that.’
Jan wrote on a website, ‘When it rains you get wet; when the sun shines you get hot, and in the evening your feet feel tired from walking. We are all pilgrims.’

We all are.

Let’s believe some more and get on the road together some more.