Sunday, October 24, 2010
I have made a new friend in France, and his name is Epsom.
At my most recent stop, in Villeneuve D’Ascq, I stayed with two friends, who shall remain nameless. One of these friends lost her sight in a car accident almost 20 years ago; the other friend took her in, enabling her to transition from normal life to life without sight.
This year, my blind friend moved into an apartment to live independently. (The other friend is also staying with her temporarily while some work is done in her home.) The move included some training in how to live alone, and the arrival of Epsom, the guide dog.
Epsom is only 18 months old, and needs a couple more years to be fully adapted to my friend, and to being a seeing eye dog. For the time being, he knows the basic commands, and must learn to adapt to my friend—her rhythm, her voice, her commands, her routes. But he is easily distracted; as we went out for several walks, Epsom kept looking at cats, children, other dogs, and me, as if I was the seeing one in this group, and surely I should take charge of the situation!
As we walked through one park, I was disturbed to see how many people let their dogs run loose, creating quite a challenge for Epsom and my friend. Time after time, Epson ‘broke ranks’ and charged after a dog on the loose, who would come running up to him to do that sniffing/aggression thing, to determine the alpha dog in the routine.
And although I had to be very circumspect in not responding to Epsom’s doleful brown eyes, and let my friend instruct him, one intervention proved necessary: when Epsom led my friend under a sign, walking through the bars while she would surely have endured a face plant if I had not grabbed her arm.
Entering my friend’s world was eye-opening (no pun intended!). Her courage in the face of incredible challenges, and her spirit in attacking one after another with simplicity and good humor, humbled me. And as schedules turned out, we had some long stretches of time to explore our spiritual landscapes, and bolster each other’s faith. At the end of my time with her, we planned skype calls and a vacation together in Atlanta as soon as possible.