Meghan Cox Gurdon: Two women find trust when they leave their comfort zones

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

Last Friday, a woman in Vancouver presented herself at an art gallery and expressed her wish to take part in an usual work of art.

She was blindfolded and told to wait.

This past Thursday, a woman in Bethesda woke at 4 a.m. and made her way through the rain to a floodlighted suburban parking lot.

She didn't have to wait long before her eyes were opened.

Each woman was doing something very much out of the ordinary, for herself. With trepidation, each stepped across the normal boundaries that governed her comfort zone. In the hours that followed, each would feel remarkable moments of empathy and vulnerability, and pangs of sudden tenderness for others.

And when each woman's very different experience was over, she felt an overwhelming sense of new appreciation for small and ordinary things.

The woman in Vancouver was Marsha Lederman, a reporter for the Globe and Mail who has written a fascinating account of what happened when she participated in a work of "one-on-one-theater" titled "Do You See What I Mean?" The show, if that's the word for it, was part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.

After being blindfolded, Lederman was introduced to a guide who would lead her around Vancouver, along familiar streets rendered unrecognizable to her because of the covering over her eyes. "Everything seemed very loud," Lederman wrote, "The traffic, without a visible barrier, felt perilously close. There was construction, and much unrecognizable racket; I was surprised at how many sounds I could not identify."

Moving cautiously at first, she soon discovered that, as her trust increased in her unseen guide, Lederman was able to walk more quickly. She found herself thinking of how young children rely trustingly on those who guide them, of people who are blindfolded against their will, of those whose sight doesn't change when their eyes are covered, because they're blind all the time.

The second woman, in Bethesda (we'll call her Lynne), had joined a cadre of social workers who broke into teams and fanned out across Montgomery County to conduct a pre-dawn, point-in-time count of the homeless. Lynne and her companions had chosen the brutally early hour because, as she told me with a bleak smile, "That's when people are home."

Home, in this case, might be a dry spot behind a dumpster, a stairwell just out of reach of the cruel winds, or a lean-to built alongside a construction fence.

"The most surreal part," Lynne said, "was walking at this very strange hour through ordinary places like strip malls and parking lots and trying to see them through the eyes of a homeless person. To see what would make a potential shelter in an empty, inhospitable place that only a few hours later would be flooded with regular people."

A few hours later, on Friday and Thursday, respectively, the two women stepped back into their normal lives and back within the compass of their comfort. Marsha Lederman took off her blindfold, and Lynne turned the key in the lock of her warm house. Both of them felt altered.

"I can't stop thinking about how much trust it must take, to put your head down, behind a dumpster, and go to sleep," Lynne said. "I am aware all the time of how safe my own world feels, and how warm and comfortable."

For Lederman, the experience of blind trust has made her look around at the physical world with fresh wonder. "The greatest performance is immersive," she writes. "It takes us completely out of ourselves and our dreary everyday existence in an effort to make us think about ourselves, to shine a light on the human experience. It delights us; it scares us."

In this way, perhaps, art imitates life.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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