Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dialog in the Dark

A couple of weeks ago, my boss took us out for a team building activity, which she tries to do about once a year. Usually, we know what the plan is ahead of time. This time, not so much. Honestly, it’s probably a good thing she kept the activity a secret from the group this time around, because if I had known what we were doing before we went, I’d probably have called in sick that day. As it was, I had serious thoughts about trying to hide in the bathroom until everything was over, but that wasn’t really an option. What could cause such panic in me, you ask? Well, a lot of things actually…I’m pretty much scared of everything. But in this case, I was scared of the dark.

Ok, I’m not really scared of the dark, per se. But there is an exhibit in Atlanta right now called Dialog in the Dark, and it’s a really amazing experience that “will awaken senses, challenge prejudices, and deepen self-awareness” according to the website. But it’s one that I probably would have avoided at all costs if the choice had been left up to me. I guess it's a good thing it wasn’t.

Basically, Dialog in the Dark is a tour through five separate darkened rooms, each designed around an everyday activity that most people take for granted. There was a park, a grocery store, a boat, a street corner, and a café, and the trip through is intended to give you a greater appreciation for what sight-impaired individuals deal with on a daily basis. When I say it was dark, we are talking pitch-black…there was absolutely no difference between when my eyes were open and when they were closed. I kept trying to open my eyes wider, thinking they would adjust to the dark at some point, but they didn’t. All I did was give myself a headache from so much straining (insert your own Steve joke here, along the lines of now I know how he feels, since normally I’m giving him the headache, or something like that…). You’re given a cane, assigned to a sight-impaired guide who you have to rely on to get you from room to room, and then you and your group are plunged into darkness. It was scary, giving up that much control over things. The point is to rely on your other senses to figure out where you are and what is going on around you. Which is trying in and of itself, but I also couldn’t get past the whole ‘haunted house’ feeling…I was afraid to reach out and touch something I couldn’t see because I felt like I’d be sticking my hands into a bowl of peeled grape ‘eyeballs’. See ‘control issues’ above. We went as a company team because we don’t all work in the same office and we have to deal with each other without seeing each other…it was supposed to teach us better communication, I guess. And I suppose it worked, because I learned it’s easier to actually talk to someone to find out what is going on (and in this case, whether that was them or the wall I was bumping into) instead of just hitting them with my stick until they get out of my way, which seems more applicable to me in the office than it probably should.

All in all, the experience went better for me than I thought it would. I didn’t trip myself or anyone else, I didn’t hit my head on anything (They explained before we went in that if we wanted to bend down to touch something, we needed to bend with our knees, straight up and down, and not bend at the waist. Because we couldn’t see what was around us, they didn’t want us to hit our heads on anything. Last week, I picked up Brigid off of the couch, swung my head back as I got her, and promptly slammed my head into the corner of the wall behind the couch. And I knew that corner was there. It hasn’t moved in the two years we’ve lived in the house. So you can see why I was a little concerned with this whole thing.), and I think I managed to avoid grabbing any co-worker butt along the way (Speaking of butt grabbing, accidental or otherwise, can you believe they take high school groups through this exhibit? Would you want to be responsible for dealing with high school hormones in complete darkness?). And it really does give you an entirely new appreciation for your sight. In the grocery store, we were instructed to feel the products on the shelf, and tell the guide what we had. I had a small can that I immediately accepted as tuna fish. When I mentioned this to the guide, she asked if it really was tuna fish, or if it was cat food. And in the refrigeration section, someone mentioned they’d found the milk. The guide’s response? “Great! Now what’s the expiration date?” Um, ok. Good question. One that I’m now exceptionally grateful to be able to answer in my everyday life. There were lots of these little ‘oh, I’d never thought of it that way’ moments on the tour. And when everything was over, the entire team was utterly exhausted. It seemed to take everyone so far out of their comfort zone (listen to me and my Corporate America clichés!) that we were all wiped out. In fact, my boss sent people home early because she didn’t want us navigating Atlanta rush hour on the little brainpower we had left. But it was a good tired. A ‘we learned a little something today’ tired. Exhaustion and control issues aside, I’m definitely glad my boss signed us up for the experience.

I know this doesn’t come close to demonstrating what it’s like to be sight impaired on a daily basis, because it only lasted an hour for me. When the tour was over, and we went to lunch to discuss our experience, I went back to seeing everything clearly. Our guide? She didn’t. At 38, she started losing her sight due to complications with diabetes. She’s 43 now, and while she can still distinguish shadows and shapes, her condition is degenerative. At some point, she may lose everything. And I don’t know how I would handle that. Her strength, her optimism, her openness in sharing her feelings on her situation with us, it was amazing.

If you happen to find yourself in Atlanta between now and the summer of 2011 (Maybe visiting me? Or at the very least, visiting the baby? Yes, I will shamelessly lure you to my house with promises of cute baby toes and high pitched giggles.), I’d highly recommend visiting this exhibit. Heck, I may even tag along with you for another go around. Just don’t be surprised if I accidentally grab your butt.

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