Reflections From My First Blind Date

Can you find your mouth? Imagine a foreign environment — unfamiliar tables, chairs, cutlery, and utensils. Then remove your sense of sight. Completely pitch black. Now, can you find your mouth with a fork?

I recently had my first experience dining in the dark at O.NOIR in Toronto, my first ‘blind date’ if you will. The idea is to eat and drink in complete darkness without the ability to see your food in front of you, much less your server or the nearby people.

The evening provided some unique experiences, ones which stirred interesting thoughts and reflections. Admittedly, I have an inability to shut off my mind most times, so here we go.

You know how they say that when you lose one sense, the other ones become heightened? In my first few minutes in the dark, I didn’t even get to notice because I was so focused on my lack of sight.

It was so strange that whether I had my eyes open, squinting, or shut, it didn’t matter. I saw the same thing — pitch blackness. This is extremely disorienting, especially if you, like me, seek to have a handle on your surroundings at all times.

I’ve done some wilderness survival training in the past which taught me the value of knowing your nearby environment. So impulsively, as soon as I was seated, I felt up everything. My table, plate, utensils, even the neighboring table. I reached out to touch my date’s hands so we would know how far apart we were seated. The first obvious reflection is that many people live their entire lives without a sense of sight, while to a person like myself who relies on it for comfort and security, the world is pretty scary without it.

After settling in, the server brought us drinks. I ordered a bottle of a Molson Canadian beer to accompany my dinner and it was strangely comforting to draw on my memory to know what the bottle looked like although I couldn’t see it.

I guess it’s our natural urge to find familiar objects and feelings when we are in new, unknown environments, like finding a “hometown meal” when we move to a new city. Or when we see American soldiers who are stationed abroad getting together to watch the Superbowl.

While waiting for our appetizers, my date asked me what color my plate was. Such a simple question that would otherwise never be asked if we were having dinner at a lit restaurant. What does it matter, right? This lead me to think about the role that color and aesthetics play in our lives. How much it matters to us how things look, when they really have little to no functional utility.

As I was eating in the dark, I found myself repetitively reaching for my napkin, incessantly wanting to wipe my mouth. We are creatures of habit, and we have code written in our software that is really hard to resist or change. In pitch darkness, having sauce from my stir fry around my lips or chin had no implication of any kind. Nobody could see or judge it, yet I absent-mindedly wanted to keep wiping.

It reminded me that simplicity has a beauty to it. Sometimes, we cause our own discomfort by obsessing over colors, aesthetics, fashion, and how things look. Removing my sense of sight, as well as that of my fellow diners changed the rules of communal dining.

Removing unnecessary chemicals from our food and household items, removing unnecessary mental clutter is freeing. Being able to eat without worrying about how I looked while eating was also liberating in a sense.

This restaurant employs servers who have visual disabilities, some completely blind. Hence, they have unique methods to navigating the restaurant, carrying plates, opening doors, etc. As I was observing the staff’s methods and systems, there were moments when I felt compelled to help by opening doors. And before I could act, this scheme of thoughts arose:

Because people do things differently, and we deem it less effective than our own way, it is not a license to impose ourselves on the situation. At least not without asking. A part of me was feeling some sense of pity for them because of their blindness, but they are employees at this establishment. They function and thrive when I am not in the restaurant, so in this case, my pity had no place. They were carrying four plates while turning door handles, a feat which I don’t think I could do, yet I felt an impulse to ‘relieve their burden’ so to speak. It came from an illogical place.

The servers at O’Noir have a system to call and answer before opening doors, an efficient system in its own right. Because my eyes (with the aid of glasses…ha!) are fully functioning, I subjected the wait staff to an unwelcome and misplaced pity. This was a great moment for me to check myself.

Bats are blind; they have their own system to know their surroundings. Have you ever seen a video of bats flying out of a cave in perfect form and rhythm? It’s legit poetry in motion. I’ve seen enough Black Friday stampede videos on Youtube to know that visually able people do not always move graciously in groups.

The realization came to me that by involving ourselves without asking, it may mess with the existing system. Remember colonialism? When one part of the world thought they should rescue another part of the world from their own ignorance and archaic lifestyles? A century later, where is the world turning for cures and methods for dealing with life’s challenges? Many of those same ‘archaic ways’ (naturopathy, yoga, herbal medicine, etc.), not to mention the generations of discord which resulted from said colonialism.

If that doesn’t resonate, remember Vice President Dick Cheney’s infamous blunder while speaking about the US entering Iraq?

“We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” -Dick Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press on March 16, 2003

I learned that opportunities which appear as chances to teach are often opportunities to learn, and when I feel like I’m helping someone else, I’m usually being served in a greater capacity.

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