Post by David McCord
Occasionally I have a thought. Usually when I announce this, my friends all scream and run for cover. My having a thought is like announcing the end of the Mayan Calendar; nothing good can come of it.
But in 2013, I ran my very first marathon: Boston. Boy, did I pick a year to run Boston! After the bombing occurred, I was stuck eight blocks from the finish line, my brain in a fog, hurting, unclear as to what was happening, trying to stand up for over an hour until we were told by the police, “Go home.”
I went home through back alleyways, since so many streets were closed due to the bombing. No finish. No medal. And it didn’t occur to me until the next day that maybe I could have opened my home to other runners who were visiting Boston, staying in hotels that they could not return to because their hotel was now a part of a crime scene.
A few months later, I had my “big thought”: When I return to the Boston Marathon next year, why not open my home to a visiting visually impaired runner?
I told you I sometimes have thoughts, and this was a big one for a guy whose socks usually don’t match. I’d never actually even met a visually impaired person. My only point of reference was television. Yep, Mary Ingalls on Little House on The Prairie wearing all that dreadful gingham and calico, not to mention those granny bonnets. And Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Oh, remember that cool visor that allowed him to detect electromagnetic waves and to “see” sound?
So I sent a message out to the Universe:
Dear Visually Impaired Runner,
Have extra bedroom if you need place to stay during Boston Marathon. The spare bedroom is done completely in a garden gnome motif. It’s, like, totally awesome.
Actually, I sent the message to someone connected to a person connected to a person connected to the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Surprisingly, I got a response to my message fairly quickly. Not only were they willing to take Crazy-Pants up on hosting a visually impaired athlete, but they wondered: could I possibly host two or three people? They must have been impressed with the gnome motif.
I was fine with it all until the day before my visually impaired houseguests arrived. That was when the little voices in my head started speaking up. Am I crazy? What was I thinking? What if I do something terribly wrong or something awfully stupid – which, by the way, I’m really good at. (I’m sort of a Mr. Bean.) How do you assist someone without being too assuming and just plain grabbing their arm and pushing them through an airport? I was starting to sweat about doing the wrong thing. Still, I was curious if my house guests would have braided hair or wear it up in a homely bun just like they did on Little House on the Prairie?
Well, after a couple of panic attacks, I did something wise: I said to my first houseguest the moment their plane landed, “Welcome to Boston. You have the very good fortune of being my very first visually impaired guest ever and I need you to show me the ropes.”
Some things you just can’t fake.
I gave control over to the visually impaired guests. I let them guide me. I actually think our first guest was relieved by my confession. He immediately replied, “I’d love to show you. I do this all the time. This is my mission in life, teaching people about the visually impaired community.”
I was relieved, to say the least.
But to tell the truth, there was very little difference between my visually impaired houseguests and any others I’d entertained before. I moved a coffee table that I’d been meaning to move for years – the one that I’m always tripping over. Otherwise, everything stayed the same.
So this is what I learned about visually impaired houseguests: sadly, they do not wear gingham and frumpy pioneer aprons. I suggested a pioneer frock, but they wouldn’t go for it. They dress just like the rest of us, except their socks actually match. They are funny and articulate. And the first question you are most likely to be asked at home is, “What’s the Internet password?”
Yep, Mary Ingalls tweeted in my house.
Helping them find a space to set up their computers and giving them rides around Boston was about it. Well, and having a great time. Lots of laughter. Hearing and sharing great stories with tremendous athletes. There was no big fuss. No crazy demands. We even went out to a karaoke bar. I sang a wicked Donna Summer. They did a mean Meatloaf. My visually impaired houseguests totally rocked the vocals.
If anything, they tired of me always offering car rides and fussing over them. Honestly, they were the easiest houseguests I’ve ever had.
As for my Boston Marathon 2014? Over halfway through the race, I started overheating and could never get it back together. I finished. I crossed the Boston Marathon finish line, but it wasn’t pretty. The highlight of that Boston Marathon week was not the race, it was hosting those amazing visually impaired athletes. My intention was to give to them, but they were the ones who gave to me. They taught me not to fear the race, or the unknown. They taught me to be brave, to laugh often, to complain less, and to not wear calico after Easter.