When you read the subtitle of Friendships in the Dark, what do you think you’ll be getting? Stories about great people? Great animals? If so, you would be correct; this book has awesome dogs, cats and people in spades. It’s an excellent read on so many levels — not the least of which is that it gives us a glimpse into the world of America’s “Greatest Generation” from the perspective of someone who witnessed its realities as a child.
Each chapter begins with a quote — always a crowd-pleaser for me. My favorites are: 1. “No one ever gets far, unless he accomplishes the impossible at least once a day” – Elbert Hubbard 2. “Hope against hope, and ask till you receive.” James Montgomery and 3. “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Confucius.
If you stumbled over the part about a “blind woman,” however, you may be wary, worried that you just don’t want to read something that makes you feel sorry for someone’s problems or that, whatever compensations that may have come into this woman’s life, you would find small comfort in them. If that’s the case, my sympathies, because you are woefully off base.
“I have never felt cheated of the rich beauty the world has to give,” writes Campbell, who was born totally blind, “For as long as I can remember, I have reached out to the world around me, giving and taking all the good things life has to offer.”
Friendships in the Dark is the story of exultant joy in the midst of life’s challenges, the power of dedicated teachers, humor and a casual honesty brought to life for the reader by a master writer. Campbell’s prose is playful, happy without being sappy, poignant without being morose, a perfectly balanced view into the best of family, community and the triumphant splendor of the human spirit.
Phyllis Campbell was a child living on a Virginia farm during WWII, the youngest of four children. It’s a home filled with love, concern for A brother going off to war and the determination of a mother that her girls were going to be successful and independent, despite what the neighbors think.
Yes, Phyllis wasn’t the first blind kid in the family. Seven years her senior, Inez was also blind, and she teaches Phyllis Braille and awakens in her a love of reading that would guide her throughout her life.
When it’s time for Phyllis to join her sister at Virginia’s residential school for the blind, their older sister Fay gets a job there to be with them. Six-year-old Phyllis falls ill and experiences the problems that faced children needing procedures at a time when the doctors were overseas. Soon, her father leaves the farm he loves and takes a job in town so the family can be closer. The cows and horses can’t come, but can her parents bring young Phyllis’s beloved dog and cat?
Campbell shows us dogs and cats like no one else can — how they interact differently with blind and deaf children, how they befriend mentally ill patients at the hospital where her father works and how they purr and wag their ways into even the most reluctant hearts.
This is the story of a young girl growing into a mature, loving, talented and independent woman, the story of how music, flowers and a dog bring that woman and the love of her life together and the story of countless improbable but true ways that dogs and cats play vital roles in the lives of their people. It is also the story of how a guide dog named Leer gives a woman independence even as she loses sight of its true meaning.
There is sadness, but Phyllis is optimistic and confident from the beginning, largely protected from the humiliation, despair and isolation many blind people experience. Her story is a reminder to those who have experienced it and an awakening to those who haven’t of the incredible joy which is possible when we reach out to one another as equals, embrace family and community, and are reassured that, whether or not our prayers are answered, they are always heard.