Monday, August 16, 2010
Book Review: Steady Hedy: A Journey through Blindness & Guide Dog School
Carolyn Wing Greenlee’s recently released book, Steady Hedy: A Journey through Blindness & Guide Dog School is a journey into another world, a world without the benefit of sight. Through Greenlee’s delightfully graphic writing, the reader is given glimpses of what she has suffered with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition that leads to incurable blindness. At the time she attended Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) in San Rafael, California, her vision had dwindled to 4%. In her class of ten, three were totally blind; the others were in various stages of debilitating visual impairment.
For years, Greenlee chafed at the inconvenience of her deteriorating vision loss. Simple tasks took longer, going shopping, especially in a strange store, was a formidable task. Walking brought fear of bumping into something or falling into a hole. The worse part was giving up driving, which meant giving up much of her independence.
People who suffer from blindness feel isolated, no longer feeling that they are a part of the group. They require help which in turn make them feel guilty. They miss communication through body-language and, especially in a group, feel they’re missing out on the flow of conversation.
By a series of surprising connections, Greenlee finds herself surrounded by a community of support, individuals who help bridge this gap by providing counseling, technology, mobility skills, and a fresh prospective on blindness. They enable the disabled. The year-long preparation she receives from these many groups and individuals make Greenlee’s admission into guide dog school possible.
At the school, Greenlee launches into a world of unknowns–unfamiliar surroundings, challenging tasks, unknown fellow students, new routines. A third-generation Chinese American, Greenlee constantly battles feelings of insecurity, incompetency and inadequacy as the result of her Confucian background. She questions whether she will measure up to the task of learning the work and successfully bonding with a guide dog.
After three days of orientation, the students receive their dogs and Greenlee is given Hedy, a small black lab. She’s bitterly disappointed not to have the color of dog she hoped for–a yellow lab. For one, with Greenlee’s limited vision, the light color itself would allow her to see the dog more clearly. To Greenlee, Hedy seems small, smelly and indifferent. It is not love at first sight for the dog, either. It’s obvious Hedy longs for her previous trainer and shows Greenlee no fondness, only aloofness. Clearly, the dog is only there because she has to be. The staff assures Greenlee that with patience and consistency Hedy will come around. It’s a partnership: the handler directs the dog and the dog delivers its owner safely. But it takes patience, time and trust. Especially trust. With hard-headed Hedy, Greenlee worries. Will they ever become a truly interdependent team?
Greenlee chronicles the ambitious activities of the school. While at first she wonders what they could possibly find to do for 28 days, now it is a rush to get everything done. Along the way, the students have adventures, form close friendships, and have a surprisingly good time even though the schedule is grueling. Step by step they face the challenging obstacles placed before them. With the support of GDB, the students become courageous, adventurous, and full of hope, aspirations they hadn’t thought possible.
Stedy Hedy is an engaging, often funny, and thoroughly satisfying story of new found freedom in the face of catastrophic loss, where, as Greenlee says, “Your worse nightmare can become the source of your deepest healing.”
Steady Hedy: A Journey through Blindness & Guide Dog School can be ordered through your favorite bookstore, through the publisher Earthen Vessel Productions (www.earthen.com), Amazon.com, Kindle and iBooks.