Stepping Into the Dark
A lad from Jarrow battles with sight loss
by David Lucas
5 stars - an important book
Good luck finding this book at the library. I bought my copy online and it is headed for my local library (so anybody in the Minuteman Library Network will be able to get it).
Yes, there is a dog in this book. A black lab named Abbot, as a matter of fact. So, doggie people, are you motivated to read it now?
Doggie person or not, this is a powerful book. Loyal readers know that I've blasted some autobiographers for their weak writing. David Lucas doesn't fall into that category. No, he isn't any sort of poet, but his words are honest and compelling.
Mr. Lucas has been losing his eyesight from day one. Plagued by a triple threat of eye ailments, his vision over the years has gotten progressively more dodgy. When the book opens, he cannot read most signs, has trouble with balance on uneven surfaces, and is generally housebound from the fatigue of having to navigate the world.
The book is short and is primarily focused on the the changes brought about in his life from his seeing eye dog, Abbot. But it also was an awakening for me about how impossible the world is for people who have compromised vision and how of all the disabilities to have, it must surely be one of the most terrifying and isolating.
The author walks us through several "ordinary" activities such as a trip to the museum or a short bus ride and makes it painfully clear how fraught with peril they are. He also points the mirror at his readers when he provides examples of how insensitive people can be. One example he uses frequently is when he goes to the coffee shop. Now Mr. Lucas has (or at least had) enough vision to walk into the shop and count out his money, but not to read a menu written on a chalkboard behind the counter. The most common reply when he asked if they had such and such was "read the menu."
I've made a real effort in the past few years to give people the benefit of the doubt. I don't assume it is all about me or that people are intent on doing annoying things. When somebody is parked with their cart in the middle of the grocery aisle, my first instinct is no longer anger. I figure first and foremost that for whatever reason, they are stuck and I utter a polite "excuse me" and smile on the way by (unless of course they are on the phone talking to Buffy about Tad in which case I can be gruff).
But Mr. Lucas has shown me how vision loss (in all its incremental forms) can make people appear to be behaving oddly or rudely when, in fact, they are just struggling to get by. So one more area for me to be aware.
Abbot is, of course, amazing and delightful and very much a dog full of devotion as well as mischief.
Remarking on his first train ride with Abbot,
Once we're on board the train I have my first experience of getting 40 kilos of dog under a British Rail seat. It's doable but by no means easy and Abbot is not happy about it. He has his huffy head on and is giving me withering looks from under the seat, accompanied by the occasional sigh for effect.
He does get into discussions of legislation mandating disability payments to sight impaired people as well as physical accommodations. Bless his heart, he warns the reader when he is about to get preachy (even entitling one chapter "Soapbox"). But his words are brief and direct and I did an inward "ouch" as I recognized some of my own prejudices and ignorance brought to light.
And when either the people to help me or the additional money [to travel] aren't available I simply lose the right to free and easy movement.
It won't take you long to read this book. I think you'll be glad you did.
P.S. I didn't want to use any photos of Mr. Lucas without permission, but if you google "David Lucas and Abbot" you can find a few wonderful photos.
P.P.S. Check out this blog. That's one of my Internet acquaintances who is severely vision impaired as is her husband. They live with such an assortment of dogs, cats, and who knows what that I can never keep track. Her stories would amaze me if she were sighted, but for somebody without benefit of vision, it's all pretty spectacular.