Sarah Blake LaRose (3kitties) wrote,
Sarah Blake LaRose

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Morris Frank and the broken place in my heart

Morris always acknowledged his debt to uninhibited college friends like Mike Martin. They were invaluable allies, because they regarded the integration of guide dogs in public places as both a challenge and a game. Morris recalled one episode in which he and a dozen friends entered an all-night diner in the small hours. When the manager objected to Buddy, one of the boys turned to another. "I don't object to the dog, do you?" The question was relayed around the circle, eliciting one negative response after the other. Morris claimed that, when it became clear that the manager was the only one who objected to the dog, the boys picked the manager up and carried him out. (Peter Putnam in Love in the Lead, pp. 82-83)

This afternoon, I attended a monologue presentation done by Bill Mooney based on Morris Frank's life. He spoke in Morris' point of view regarding a number of important incidents in his life with his first dog, the aim being to capture Morris' personality. He had apparently interviewed a number of people who knew Morris during his research process as well as doing quite a bit of additional research to lend some unique flavor to his presentation.

His description of the above scene touched me in a deep place that is very broken in my life. I couldn't cry about it; but when he got to the part about the dog dying, I just let it rol: weeping and wailing (silently, thank God, though the entire room was going). I wasn't really wailing over the dog, though animal death gets me every time. I was wailing over the scene and what it meant for me.

He talked about it being important for blind people to not stand by themselves--I can't remember exactly how it was worded in the presentation. The picture with this particular scene was so powerful! It's something I've been trying to say for a long, long time. We can have organizations that allow us to 'speak for ourselves," as the NFB motto says--to advocate for what we need. That's important historically because for a long time people with disabilities were cared for like children and they desperately needed dignity--in a lot of ways we still need that dignity, and sometimes we need to give it to each other as well as have it given to us by the rest of society. But without sighted people standing up alongside us, agreeing with us about the things we need, we will never achieve much in this world. Morris Frank won the right to take Buddy into that place because all of his friends demonstrated that Buddy mattered. It is the same idea as what happened in the Civil Rights movement. It went somewhere because white people caught on and started giving up their seats, standing up against what their own people were doing.

The wounded place in my heart and life is most often buried so that I can go on; but it is not untouchable. A long time ago, I was asked to leave my dog outside a restaurant. I was with some friends: a couple of them old friends and a couple of them new friends. I was new in town, and we were looking forward to a good lunch of Chinese food. It was 95 degrees outside, and my dog was black. More importantly, she was trained to be at my side, guiding me and lying quietly and unobtrusively while I ate.

One of my old friends carried the message to me after having gone in and requested a table for us. I exclaimed in shock that such a thing would even be asked of me and said that no, I would not leave my dog outside. He tried to negotiate with me on the manager's behalf, asking if I would leave the dog in the car. Cars heat up badly in such weather; and besides, my dog was trained to be with me. At that suggestion, I wanted to ask him to just take me home and enjoy lunch without me. None of the rest of the party spoke up.

finally, we were allowed in; but I was mortified and upset and could not let go of my feelings about the incident or about my friends' behavior. I probed for their reactions, hoping that someone would say something supportive. But no one did. They avoided the subject. They also never called me again. They arranged for someone else to pick me up for church, and they avoided speaking to me for any reason. I changed churches after a few weeks; and a couple of years later, I got a baby shower invitation from the two old friends. I did not attend.

This memory is so vivid in my mind that if I think about it much it hurts all over again. So I don't think about it much. I'm very selective about Chinese food restaurants in my town. There is one that is within walking distance from my home, and the staff are very enthusiastic about me and my dogs and any guests I bring. They think it's awesome that I taught Loretta to find the place using the words "Chinese food" once I'm on the right block. The manager was watching when I did it... She opened the door for me, and I said, "I'll be right back. I have to teach Loretta 'Chinese food.'" So she saw me do it, and she watched Loretta learn to target the shop, and she's proud of Loretta. I will not eat at any other Chinese place in town. Golden House deserves all the business I can bring them.

But I lost friends over an act of discrimination, over standing my ground. And it hurts. I wish I had more experiences like what Morris had with his friends in the bar. I think, sadly, that this is mostly just reflective of the difference between society in the 1930s and society today. People now are not really comfortable being outspoken about things, especially if they are a certain type of people. To be outspoken is to risk making a bad impression. Being outspoken does not have to mean being impolite; but unfortunately, many people are afraid that the two will equate in the onlooker's mind and so they do not act in response to anything that is wrong in the world.

As I write this, it occurs to me that people have a dislike for being "reactive." It symbolizes acting without thinking, and it can create more problems than it solves. But "acting in response" is not the same thing as being reactive. It is reacting with precision and grace, knowing the right thing to do and doing it.

I want to act in response to things. I want to be unafraid and unashamed to show solidarity with people who are being mistreated. I want to give help to people who are in need. I want to comfort people who hurt. I want to say I'm sorry when I hurt someone, even if I didn't mean to hurt them. I want to learn from my mistakes and take steps to keep myself from hurting people twice in the same way. This really doesn't have much to do wit what I wrote about the scene from Morris Frank's life. But I can't control anyone else's actions. I can only control mine. And whether or not anyone else stands with me, I can do it for others. That is how I heal the broken place in my heart: by doing for others what was not done for me.

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