Get to Know Yourself, Friend

Here comes Hallelujah, the bum. He’s my neighbor. I give him yesterday’s newspapers and he reads them under a tree. Or he takes them away to secret places. He is my neighbor. He could be disabled or homeless; he could be neither of these things. He is American. I would like it if more Presidential candidates looked like him. The man may well have a job. I don’t presume. He’s Old Hallelujah and he’s free. I’ve long admired him because he doesn’t have a TV. He does like the public library. He’s one of the toughs alright.

When my sister was a teenager and in the days when you could still make prank phone calls she used to call strangers and announce that she was from the “Get to Know Yourself Club” and with amazing skill she’d get people to look at their hands. She would get folks to look at their palm lines. She was never cruel. She’d tell perfect strangers how to recognize their own beauty and then she’d hang up. Like Old Hallelujah she was free.

There’s an old Zen adage: “If you want to get across the river, get across.”

Be free. Just decide. It helps if you spend time in the public library and watch zero TV.

Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

Get across.

Years ago I decided to learn how to walk in strange places. It wasn’t an easy thing to do.

My blindness made it hard to imagine “taking on New York” for instance.

I got my first guide dog, a yellow Lab named Corky.

We took our first solo walk in Manhattan.

We walked up Park Avenue and entered the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The doorman bade us welcome. He displayed gladness. My “no longer being afraid” meant I could hear notes of optimism.

“Welcome to the Waldorf, Sir,” said the doorman, adding, “what a sharp dog!”

“Thank you,” I said.

I remembered to say good dog.

We swayed together side by side on the red carpet.

“Corky,” I said. “Oh Corky!”

We stood in the foyer.

There was a general fragrance of lilies.

“We can come to places like this; we can find our way; we’re New Yorkers!” i said, though not loudly.

The rug was soft as a cloud.

There was something august and funereal about the odors of furniture wax and flowers and the odd hush of the place. And as I would do so many times over the coming years I got down on one knee and hugged my dog.

Men and women passed us, headed for the Park Avenue exit.

“Wow,” said a woman, seeing us.

I heard the smile in her voice.

I heard an elevator open.

I remembered that during World War II a train platform was constructed under the Waldorf for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He could exit the train in privacy—the Secret Service would raise him from his wheel chair and help him into an open sedan. The car would be lifted via the elevator to street level.

I thought of FDR and all the stage work required to conceal his disability from voters.  I’d already come far with Corky. I was fully visible with blindness and more pleased about it than I’d have thought possible.

Get across.

Get across.

And don’t forget: zero TV.

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