The Order of the White Stick

Person crossing the road with white stick in hand

Are you reluctant to use a white stick? Macular Society member Robin discusses the highs and lows of using her white cane for the first time...

No! I don’t need it, and I can’t do it, and I won’t!

This was my reaction on receiving my white stick. I am strong, I am independent, it is not necessary.

And then I found myself trotting along a busy street (“Watch out when you are crossing, because you can’t see the colours of some of the cars”) on my way to meet friends at the coffee shop (“If you find yourself next to the antique market, you have gone too far”). Despite their instructions I sailed past the coffee shop. Thankfully my friends spotted me and scooped me safely into café’s warmth and security – they know me for myself, and not for any old white stick.

But the incident stuck in my mind. Am I really that strong? Might I need some help when there are no friends to shout after me? As shopping was getting increasingly difficult, I decided that I’d christen my white stick at the supermarket, on our Christmas food shop.

My husband and I tore the shopping list in half, took a trolley each and sallied forth, me with my white stick carefully laid across the top of the trolley. It was brilliant! The deli assistants helped me with the labels without my having to ask, and the floor staff were very patient as we chose our Christmas wine. The crowds parted like the sea in front of Moses as I made my progress and both of our trolleys got fuller and fuller.

But let me introduce you to my trolley. It was one of those creatures that doesn’t want to go where you want it to go. It fancied itself as a crab, and was quite definite about going sideways and off the pavement. Enter a lovely lady…

“Oh my lovie,” she said, “how you are struggling! Let me help you.” She grabbed hold of the front of Mr. Crabwheels and tugged. In my mind, just one word was forming. It is a word my husband nags me about: “Grrr”. But I swallowed it, and sweetly declined all help, pointing out that my husband was just in front of me and would lend a helping hand. “But sweetheart, he is struggling too,” she insisted. “Look, I’ll push his trolley from behind, and we will make a dear little train.” And then, the unforgiveable: “Choo choo choo!” she chirped. The growl in my head was getting bigger and bigger, but my husband gave me one of his “don’t you dare” looks, and I bit my tongue.

The little train puffed to the car, with me still on my best behaviour. I wished the lady a very merry Christmas, adding that she deserved an extra-special one because she had been so kind.

And then I had a shock. She told me that she had just lost her husband, and this would be her first Christmas without him.

I have learnt a hard lesson. We of the Order of the White Stick have to remember that many people out there are carrying invisible sticks – and they need our love and care too.