DIALOGUE IN THE DARK: REFLECTION

 

By Suria Hani binti Mohd Kasan, Diploma in Early Childhood Education

 

As I made my way to The Weld on the 12th of June, a tiny part of me felt jittery at the thought of fumbling around in pitch black darkness with a group of random college-mates I barely speak to, given the fact that I usually take weeknight classes. In addition to that, I have an irrational fear of the dark. Perhaps that was why I got there about an hour before our session, so I could give myself some time to calm down in the familiar coffee-scented ambience of the Starbucks outlet by the entrance. Then, the time came for us to meet up at Dialogue in the Dark. 

While waiting for our group’s turn to enter, I was oddly comforted by the discovery that I wasn’t the only one feeling nervous about the experience. Reading the postcards that contained reviews from past participants that adorned some of their wall space actually made excitement bloom in my heart, and that feeling soon overcame any reservations that I had. Split into four groups, we introduced ourselves to each other so that even if we didn’t know much about each other, we at least knew the names to keep track of in the dark. 

The experience began with a briefing, where each of us were handed a walking stick. It was my first time holding one, so it was pretty awkward to use it while holding on to the person in front of me. If I were to be honest, I still didn’t grasp the ability to navigate using the walking stick by the end of the session. I thought I would need to memorize the different textures of the tactile tiles we were introduced to, but all knowledge on that was pretty much thrown out the window once we were engulfed in absolute darkness. They weren’t kidding when they said we would experience what it was like to be blind. I relied more on the group mates who were in front of me, who were super helpful in the way they relayed what to look out for as we made our way through the dark. We were also assigned a facilitator, who was really helpful throughout the journey. As I type this out, I find it sort of hilarious how we went from acquaintances who only knew of each other’s’ names minutes ago to relying and trusting one another. We stopped and slowed down when one of us felt overwhelmed by the situation, and were attentive towards the wellbeing of one another. It was really nice. Despite bumping into walls and railings several times, I’d say our teamwork was quite good. The facilitator was right; the experience probably COULD forge bonds between enemies. 

After traversing through various environments in the dark, we were led to a room where we played games together. The first instruction given to us when we got there was to find a seat. For some reason, I had assumed we were in an auditorium so I felt my way to a vacant seat while expecting an incline in the flooring. We were then told to arrange ourselves in alphabetical order. The mini introduction session we had amongst ourselves before we walked in definitely contributed greatly to our success in being the first to get this sorted out. That, and the fact that we kept ourselves relatively calm and collected despite the loud excitement that erupted around us as every group tried to arrange themselves too. Even though we did not manage to assemble the pieces of the rainbow given to us in order, we still came close. Our overall communication can be described as pretty effective, as we managed to handle ourselves pretty well during the “Tea Party” too. Admittedly, I did not think I would be able to pour hot water into a cup unscathed, but it went surprisingly well. 

We wrapped up the experience with a thought-provoking sharing session. Words cannot describe the near-comical silence that befell the room the moment the room was bathed in light. It was such a contrast to how loud most of us were before that. If in complete darkness we pretty much lowered our inhibitions and were more trusting with one another, the ability to see that was returned to us had a sobering effect. You could almost feel our respective walls rising again. Why is it that we felt closer in the dark, compared to when we could see? It is safe to say that I was not alone in pondering that question. Perhaps it is human nature to naturally gravitate towards and depend on others when we are in need. Is it easier to disregard others when we do not need them? Admitting that is a really tough pill to swallow. As much of a believer in kindness as I am, I cannot deny the ugly truth in that. A part of me feels ashamed because had someone tried to get me to follow them in broad daylight, I would be wary and cautious. 

The facilitators introduced themselves, and shared about their impressive backgrounds. They have all made something of themselves, and have achieved so much in spite of their condition which is exceptionally mind-blowing. They mentioned “You must’ve thought we had night-vision goggles on, right?”. Embarrassingly, that was exactly what I had blindly assumed. I couldn’t help but to compare my achievements in life to theirs. Why is that I, a person with regular sight, can barely keep a firm hold on my fleeting ambitions while they managed to achieve way more than I dared to dream of achieving. It was then that I understood the phrase “many have sight, but few have vision”. I am in awe of how they took charge of their own lives, despite the limitations in their everyday environment. I admire their strength and resilience, and in that moment one of the many seeds of determination that have laid dormant for so many years bloomed within me. It was not a “If the blind can do it, I can definitely do it” type situation. It was more of a “I want to be more like them” type feeling that grew in my chest, for I have always admired those who are able to keep a firm grip on their goals in life. Rather than pitying them, what I felt towards the facilitators then was mostly admiration. 

One of the most memorable truths that was imparted to us in that last room was something that is not exactly new to us, but rather it was something that most of us don’t think about often enough. Though we were much quieter in those final few minutes compared to how loud we were during the earlier parts of the experience, our collective minds were abuzz with thoughts about how much the world is in need of more empathy. With how fast-paced life is nowadays, it is easy to fall into that never-ending loop of fulfilling our own needs while ignoring or overlooking the needs of others. Our current society is not as accommodating towards the needs of the blind in terms of awareness and public amenities. Experiencing this 

has only solidified the belief in the need for improvement. If they can do so much despite how limiting public resources can be, can you imagine what they can do within an environment that actually supports their community effectively? As a society, we should figure out how to make our environment more inclusive, because in an ideal world, the term “our community” should be used more than “his/hers/their/my community”. 

I left Dialogue in the Dark with so many thoughts running through my head. In addition to the aforementioned ones, I feel like every single person should experience what we all did that afternoon. Ironically, it was an eye-opening experience despite having our sight momentarily taken away. As cliché as it sounds, having one of our senses taken away definitely heightened our other senses. Being vulnerable ourselves increased our understanding of the vulnerability of others. If prior to that day I had the underlying thought that my life could not possibly go on if I were to lose my sight, this session had proven otherwise. I am reminded of this particular quote from Helen Keller: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Dialogue in the Dark had given me a precious piece of hope and optimism that I have continuously been seeking in life for as long as I could remember. In truth, I secretly carry a lot of self-doubt and often limit myself, even in the way I dream which is pretty ridiculous because of all things to limit in life, dreams are the very last things we should limit. I miss my younger self, who was a far braver dreamer than the person that I have grown to be. We should live our lives with the belief that anything is truly possible. We should strive to cross the boundary of our fears and doubts. To quote Rumi: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” We are all unique, and our dreams and ideals matter. 

In a nutshell, I entered Dialogue in the Dark a somewhat meek person who had forgotten how to dream and left with a renewed outlook on life and the people I share this planet with. I pray that the future society we are bound to live in is a unified and inclusive one, for the thought of that is breathtakingly beautiful and warms my heart greatly. It is going to take a great deal of effort, but I vow to try to contribute to that ideal to the very best of my abilities. I am grateful to have had the chance to experience what I did that day, and I hope that more and more people will be able to do so as well.