Two people, who married late in life, were happily surprised to welcome a baby girl into the world. They named her Dawn, for the beautiful light she brought into their lives, but within minutes of her birth, they realized that Dawn would live in darkness. A brief test confirmed that Dawn was completely blind in both eyes, but the doctor told them not to worry.
“Plenty of blind people go through life just like anyone else,” the Doctor said. “With some training, Dawn will be self-sufficient,” but it is not unusual for parents to worry. Not being blind themselves, they wondered what life would be like for their little girl.
The first year of Dawn’s life went by like any other baby’s. Dawn cried whenever the proper attention wasn’t paid to her, and took solace in her parents’ lullabies. Then one day, Dawn spoke her first word, “love,” and her parents were amazed by the sweetness of her voice. Never had they heard a more lovely sound.
Of course, one might suspect that Dawn’s parents were biased, but they were not alone in their opinion. Birds and other animals flocked to listen at her windowsill.
If the window were ever left open, the animals would crowd around Dawn’s crib. This would please Dawn, and she would perform for them until her parents shooed them out.
By the age of three, Dawn learned that she could use her voice for more than entertaining. She could use it to map out every corner of her house. Every note Dawn uttered would reflect off the table, or bookcase, or sofa, and she would be able to get around the house without harm.
She could walk to her bedroom window, and sing directly to her forest friends. By this time, the animals had grown accustom to her, and they would contribute percussion and bass notes. Dawn and her parents couldn’t go for walks around the neighborhood without being followed by a parade of chipmunks, birds, mice, and even a rat once. Upon the request, the birds might fly ahead to let Dawn know which way to turn.
As Dawn grew older, she attended a public school where her seeing classmates admired her voice and unintentionally quirky fashion-sense. Only certain kids minded chipmunks joining in on games of hide and seek, and Dawn found those kids easy enough to ignore.
Unfortunately, Dawn’s voice couldn’t protect her from every real-life scenario. Her voice could not reflect off of holes or rocks in the ground, or inform cars when she crossed the street.
For years, Dawn ignored her parents’ advice to use a cane. Dawn didn’t want her friends to think that she was too weak to join in their activities. Her parents disagreed with this way of thinking. To them, the use of a cane could lead to a level of comfortable self-reliance.
So, without Dawn’s permission, they called Derek Sutter, a renowned teacher at The Perkins School for the Blind. He was also blind, and used a cane.
“A cane is a tool just like a hammer or a wrench,” he said to Dawn, “It lacks the power to be shameful.”
Derek and Dawn took a taxi to Billerica State Forest where he armed her with a cane, a walking stick, and a clip-on water bottle.
“Were going for a hike, and these are the proper supplies. If you can survive on this terrain, then you can survive anywhere. You must save you r voice for the way back. You must learn to travel without outside assistance. On the way back, you may do what you wish.”
Derek led them out of the parking lot, and on to a wooded trail. As Dawn walked, she listened to the animals around her. She heard the sharp cries of three baby sparrows, a squirrel merrily cracking acorns, and the distinct knocking pattern of a woodpecker. It was not easy for her to go without singing. She experienced several minor falls, one because her cane overshot a rock, and the other because she was too frustrated to pay attention on a downward hill. Dawn lasted a quarter of a mile before requesting to turn back.
“No pain, no gain,” Derek warned, but he admitted that they had traveled far enough for one day. So, he took Dawn by the shoulders and spun her around until her sense of direction was thrown off.
“Now we’ll try it your way to get back.” He said, but Dawn continued to hold on to her walking stick and cane. Derek was right, they were useful, but she was still ready to show him what she could do. She sang out to all the animals of the forest, and listened for the specific sounds she had heard before. Again, the knock of the woodpecker, the crack of the acorn, and the cries of the three baby sparrows greeted Dawn. Before long she and Derek were back at the parking lot, and Derek was in awe of her talents.
In the following months, Derek and Dawn went on several more hikes down the same path, and each time they went deeper and deeper into the forest. They would use his methods, and then hers until she was a master of both. Dawn learned that a cane made her more independent, not less. She no longer required her animal friends for assistance. She sang with them out of friendship, not necessity.
Written by Alex Schattner (8/16 – 8/17/12)