I’m proud to publish this post, the first from a guest blogger. It’s written by my dear friend, April Martin. April and I have loads in common. We both grew up in Alabama, we’re both blind and work Seeing Eye Dogs, we’ve both worked in the field of blind rehab, and we’re both married to Jim Martin. Say what? Yep, it’s true, there are two Jim Martins in the world, April’s Jim and my Jim.
As you’ll see, April is a great writer as she tells the story of the gift of peace. What she doesn’t know is that, during a visit at the end of March this year, she and Jim gave that gift right back to me. On the Monday morning of their visit, my Jim headed out to work while I settled down for a day of work at home. Jim and April wandered out onto the front porch. They spent the entire morning out there, talking, laughing, soaking in the hot tub. It was one of those glorious spring days that “The South” offers up. All of the doors and windows were open to let in the sweet spring air. Over the course of the morning I’d hear the murmur of their voices, a soft chuckle of laughter, long comfortable periods of silence. I knew that Jim and April both had a degree of stress in their lives at the time. Listening to them relax and unwind as I moved through my work day gave me that very gift of peace about which April writes.
You’ve come a long way April. I’m proud to call you friend. I hope you’ll continue to write. You’re very good at it. With a smile and a wave, Sue
Guest Blog Post
When I first read the preface, “into the Whirlpool,” a deep chord was struck within my very being. I have always looked up to Sue, but I only knew bits and pieces of her story. Reading the entire account gave me chills and the need to thank God that it just wasn’t her time even though she thought itmight have been.
This piece had such a profound effect on me because I struggle with my own whirlpool called chronic depression. It’s a good thing I’m a strong swimmer and enjoy the water. All kidding aside, I have learned that things do get better even when I’m clutched in the jaws of that soul sucking monster I call depression. I know within my very heart and soul that things will get better because I now have the strength to reach out to those who love and care about me. Two of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that “No matter how bad things seem, they will improve with time and assistance from others,” and that “Even though I feel worthless and that no one cares, many do, and it’s my job to reach out to them.” The depression always goes away even if it is only temporary. With the right coping tools, friends and the proper therapeutic help it is more than possible to survive repeated dunkings in the whirlpool called depression
I first met Sue and Jim Martin in October of 2001 when I took a job at the Iris Network in Portland, Maine. I was still coming to terms with the fact that I could live as a productive member of society even though I did struggle with major depressive disorder. I had mostly learned this lesson while completing my Master’s degree at Western Michigan University, but I still wasn’t totally sure of my ability to work a full time job and still appreciate life. Sue and Jim helped me experience and appreciate the beautiful natural settings Maine has to offer. I am going to relate one such experience and hope my words can do Maine’s nature justice.
I viewed Sue and Jim’s log cabin outside of Ellsworth as a vacation get away from the struggles of starting anew job . They were extremely supportive while helping me learn to navigate the politics of the work place as well as sharing with me the beauty of Maine’s outdoors. I am totally blind, and my Seeing Eye Dog at the time was Ozzie. He and Sue’s dog, Beverly, loved to romp and play while her Majesty Quoddy watched from whatever vantage point she had chosen. Quoddy was Sue’s retired Seeing Eye Dog, and they also had an Alaskan Malamute, named Silver Girl.
One weekend Sue and Jim asked me if I had ever been hiking with a guide dog. My answer, unfortunately, was no, but I quickly agreed to give it a try. Sue explained to me how to use an adjustable, high quality hiking stick in my right hand while holding Ozzie’s harness handle in my left. We decided to go to Barr Harbor (Aka) Mount Desert Island, (MDI).
I quickly grasped the mechanics of climbing the South Bubble on MDI. Sue and Beverly led the pack. I followed with Ozzie, and Jim, walking with Silver Girl, brought up the end. It was important for Jim to be behind us so that he could see what was coming and give us verbal directions accordingly.
My favorite part of the climb up was when we had to drop our harness handles and use both hands and feet to climb over this huge boulder. It was so cool to get to the top and be greeted by Ozzie with a lick on the cheek as though he was saying, “Congratulations Mom! I knew you could do it.” The climb was challenging, exhilarating, and just the right hike for a beginner.
The most special part of the hike happened when we were traveling back down the South Bubble. I felt confident enough to descend more independently and without Jim’s verbal directions. I let Sue, Jim and their dogs get ahead of me but not out of ear shot. I then stopped and truly listened. I heard the sound of silence. I heard the stillness of northern woods in the late fall after the leaves are gone. I heard the calm and easy breath of the wind through the branches, but most of all I heard and felt peace for the first time in a very long time. This peace and silence rolled over me and regenerated my love of life. My spirit had been cleansed and soothed, and I felt whole again. To this day I feel chills as I recall that feeling of peace. I was there, calm and peaceful, listening to the silence, knowing that Jim and Sue were there, ahead of me on the trail. With a last deep breath I continued down the trail. I knew they would be there waiting for me. I knew we’d go back to that log house in the Maine woods and sit in front of the fire, perhaps with a mug of hot chocolate. The peace of that day would go with me. I knew I had only to reach out to feel it again.
Sue and Jim offered me an outing they thought would be fun for me. It was so much more than that. It was a life altering experience on that early November day of 2001, but they didn’t know they were doing it. So keep an open mind and remember that we never know when we can profoundly touch a life simply by reaching out with a hand of hope.
Sue and Jim, I want to thank you for giving me that sense of peace which has lasted far beyond the day of the hike. The two of you have truly changed my life for the better.
I want to dedicate this piece to our dogs mentioned in this post who are no longer with us: Quoddy, Beverly, Ozzie and Silver Girl. In loving memory of these four-footed family members who enrich our lives so very much.
I am so proud of you, my daughter, April Martin, who for the better part of 30+ years has given me love, laughter, fear, tears, hope, determination, incouragement, and a pride of being you mother. LIttle did I know when first I held my little pink bundle that I would experience so many emotions in the following years. April has no fear of new adventures, not knowing where they may lead, nor how they will end. I am so very proud of you and honored to be “Mother” to a most wonderous person. Love to you, Soldier and your Jim Martin.
Thank you Alice. Your comment has literally brought tears to my eyes. See there, told you she’d be okay didn’t I?
My dearest niece April, You have been a center of pride and joy to the entire family. You were Grannie and Grandpa’s package of happiness. You have always given me the inspiration of facing my fears in the Air Force, I’d tell myself– “If April can accomplish everything she has with visual challenges I can do this.” You are wonderful and make us all so proud. Continue your wonderful life and take time to smell the roses and know that you always have an unconditional love sent your way! Once again yeah April!!!
April, I think you are a trail-blazer with a courageous spirit; not afraid to skin your knee once in a while, climbing over the boulders of life and always willing to help others with what you have learned. You have given me the gift of inspiration to try new technologies to over-come some of the “boulders of blindness.” May your spirit always have a “go-for-it” attitude. Robert
reading your stories, makes me want to head out and kick a futball, ride a bike , drive the nearest car, and do other things that i thot werent possible since i became blind one and half year ago. thanks so much for sharing….
This reminds me of the time many years ago when I was in college and a good friend and I went for a hike in Vermont. I am blind and have been, from birth (or shortly after). I recall that we were climbing and crawling over rocks and hills. Then, my buddy calmly told me that I needed to be sure to stay right behind him. He said that moving a foot to the left or right, there was a seventy foot drop! Maybe I’m glad I couldn’t see it! Anyway it was great fun and I’m sure that in those days, God had angels trailing me because I was pretty daring and not always as wise as I should have been. On the other hand, a measured level of risk-taking is often a recipe for success.
There are certainly many beautiful things in God’s creation which bring peace. I love music and enjoy playing the piano. I work in a stressful job, and quiet music often is a great way of calming down. I’m thankful for the many things in life which can bring us peace, and especially thankful for people like you who offer such sweet reminders.