This Writer’s Life: It’s Ari’s Birthday (part 2)
Yes, I applied to get a Guide Dog, to be part of a mobility team. But it would take a lot more preparation.
First the school needed to evaluate my current mobility skills. Sure, I was using A traditional white cane to get around the synagogue building where I taught Hebrew to sixth graders every Sunday morning. But it had been years since I had regularly navigated streets
Independently, not to mention handling the ins and outs of crossing them. Back then I thought nothing of rounding up my three youngsters, putting the baby in a front-carrier, and trotting everyone down the street, around the corner, and up the road to the local library for weekly Story Time . We even ventured to Dairy Queen once In a while.
That was then…a different time, a different town, and a different me. Needless to say, when the GDB (Guide dogs for the Blind) trainner eventually visited me, I failed the initial evaluation.
“If you are really serious about travelling with a dog,” she informed me, “you will need to be a good cane-traveler first. You will be the navigator, not the dog. He will guide you around obstacles, but it is up to you to get where you want to go.”
I arranged for additional mobility training with my local Commission for the Blind, and got serious.
It wasn’t long before I was out in the rain, the heat, and the blustery chill, crossing the streets in my neighborhood, and pushing my limits up that long, long hill on the bark path of the park. My instructor didn’t set my pace. He followed a few steps behind me, a friendly hooded presence, there when I needed, but otherwise invisible to me. We crossed at stop signs and traffic lights, devised a loop around my neighborhood, and even explored hallways in the synagogue I had never known about.
It took about a year, but eventually I was ready to reschedule my evaluation for Guide Dog training. And what do you know? This time I passed. All I needed now was n opening in the school’s training calendar, and their choice of my perfect teammate.
The call came in February of 2008. Could I be ready in about two weeks?
“You bet!” I responded like a spring wound too, too tight.
I started packing according to the list GDB sent me: good walking shoes, rain coat, winter coat, gloves, hat, reflective wrist bands for night training. Then there was all my regular shirts and trousers, and I threw in a couple of notebooks from grad school classes I would be missing for a month, along with the pet rock my daughter had given me a decade earlier when she didn’t need it for Kindergarten any more.
When the big day finally came, my husband and I drove the hour and a half to the school’s Boring, Oregon campus, joking all the way about how my time away would naturally be anything but boring. The truth was, I had no idea what to expect. All I had was a longing to move about my world freely, and independently.
(to be continued)