This is the space where guide dog Jarvis will post his thoughts for Advent, his first post will be Sunday December 3rd, watch this space.
Monday December 11th
Dave here, why is "Howay In A Manger" so important to me?
Like many disabled Christians I have often felt the very subtle, unspoken pressure to be cured of my disability.
In my time I have been accused of a lack of faith, of simply not praying hard enough, I have been told that there must be some unacknowledged area of sin in my life and that if only I would repent and confess then I would be cured.
I have to tell you I think this all comes from a lack of understanding of the difference between healing and cure.
For the ten years or so after being diagnosed I simply ran away, the prospect of my onsetting disability was simply too much for me to contemplate so for years, I ran, I lied, I hid, I refused help, I refused to talk about it. All of this behaviour did untold damage to all my relationships, with my wife, my parents and family members and most of my friends. After tea years of this the truth is that I found myself late at night, standing in the middle of the Tyne Bridge, very seriously contemplating suicide.
After standing there for well over an hour, I lost my nerve and walked home.
The next day I began a long process of exploring what help and advice might be out there for someone losing their sight. I told not a soul about this process for fear I might not be able to go through with it, I wanted to know I could deal with it before telling anyone.
After searching through local blind societies, charities like RNIB and Guide Dogs I was eventually offered an assessment to see if I would get a guide dog. It was at this point that I told my wife Denise what I'd been up to, she could not believe it.
While all this was going on I was an active member of the Northumbria Community, a Celtic Christian, a new monastic. Imagine then my joy when eventually I was matched with my first dog, a dog called Abbot, me a new monastic being guided by an abbot, here was God telling me very loudly that this was the right thing, I've never looked back.
Getting Abbot and now having Jarvis has been the single most transformative experience of my life. Have I been healed of my disability? No, indeed it is in real terms far worse now. Have I been cured? Absolutely without doubt YES! My blindness holds very little fear for me now, in the 16yrs since Abbot arrived I have rebuilt my life, I've done an MA, changed career, moved house and my marriage has been totally transformed. To all those people back then who were demanding a miracle, all I can say is I have had not just one but many.
So "Howay In A Manger" is about a Christmas celebration with disabled people where no one is going to blame your disability on sin, where no one will pressure you about being cured and above all where you are welcome and loved as you are.
Sunday December 10th
Advent is a time of waiting.
My Dad isn't very good at that but I'm teaching him the art of patience.
When I'm out working with my dad and we approach a kerb I sit down and dad can recoginise that movement through my harness, so then he knows we have arrived at a kerb. There is a popular misconception that it is the dog that decides when to cross, no the owner must decide but here is the clever bit, if dad gives me the command forward and it is not safe I will simply ignore him. Guide Dogs refer to this as "intelegent disobedience". Dad is often very impatoent and can urge me to set off before it is safe, that's simply not going to happen.
During Advent it can all get rather exciting and many of us find the waiting part the most difficult, but remembe that we are waiting for a reason and it is in that waiting space where trust begins to grow.
Saturday December 9th
On this day back in 2001 I qualified with my first guide dog Abbot, I have a background in Celtic Christianity and the idea of being guided by an abbot seemed very profound to me.
This time of year always reminds me of thos early days with Abbot and that jhe arrived in Afvent has always felt significant to me. Getting Abbot was a rebirth for me, the start of something new, the most life changing and transformational experience I've evr had.
That sense of anticipation, the expectancy of rebirth, the chance to start over is what always comes to me during Advent.
My prayer for all of you would be that you experience some of that feeling that I had when Abbot arrived in that Advent of 2001.
The Christ Child is coming, their is expectancy in the air.
A life changing experience is almost upon us.
Today Jarvis has a message for us all. Ask anyone about the role of a guide dog and they will probably say that a guide dog is there to lead someone, this is a common misunderstanding.
Guide dog and owner are a partnership of mutualioty and interdependance, Dave looks after Jarvis, he feeds, grooms free runs, plays and looks after Jarvis's medical needs, in return Jarvis guides him. Jarvis comes to work for Dave out of love, a love that has developed through this interdependence of relationship, Jarvis is eager to work, no one has ever abused or coerced him in any way, he works out of love, a love that is deep and mutual.
As we approach the coming of the Christ Child let us not be looking for a "leader" but rather for a saviour, a saviour who is looking to share a relationship with us, a relationship of mutuality and interdependence, relationship that grows from a deep mutual love. Want to know how this is done? Just watch any guide dog partnership.
Thursday December 7th
Today Jarvis and I thought we'd share some excerpts from my diary way back in 2004
5 Feb 2004
It’s almost midnight and I’m reflecting on a day that I’ve feared all my life. Today my consultant told me it was time to change my registration status from visually impaired to blind. Years ago I was so gripped with fear at this prospect I would just have run and cursed the world at the injustice of it all. I always thought that this moment would be too much to cope with... Yet here it is and while it’s not good news, it doesn’t scare me anything like I thought it would. My vision is failing and I may not keep even the sight I have now but I have Abbot in my life so it feels like anything is possible. His belief in me is awe-inspiring and life is good. Abbot sees enough for both of us. This last year has been the happiest time in my life and what happened today is a mere blip on life’s radar. The world has not fallen apart as I always thought it might. The old feeling of ‘Let’s run!’ has not surfaced. I have a strong feeling that we are now into uncharted territory. Just as I wrote that, Abbot wandered into the room and sat down beside me as if to say ‘It’ll be OK, Dad.’ And do you know what? I think he might just be right. Now I really am a true blindy and I don’t give a stuff. I love Denise, she loves me and Abbot and Tessa love us both. (Tessa was our pet dog at the time) What more is there? Good night and God bless. (Bloody hell, this diary is starting to sound like The Waltons.)
10 Feb 2004
These are strange days indeed. Since last week’s news I find myself looking at familiar things in a new light. I watch Denise as she’s sleeping and try and freeze the picture in my memory. I want to hold such pictures in my mind forever. Now and again I’m consumed by the fear that I might not be able to remember. Now and again I’m seized by the enormity of it all. I’ve never known fear like this.
14 Feb 2004
The practicalities of my sight loss are not the things that frighten me. Abbot has taught me that all such things are surmountable. No, it’s a grieving process for all the familiar things that I know I’ll miss terribly.
18 Feb 2004
Every time I look at someone or something that’s important to me, I find myself wondering if this is the last time I’ll see
that particular scene. I try and force such images into some kind of mental filing cabinet in the vain hope that I might be able to call them up at some point in the dreadful, sightless future.
21 Feb 2004
I’m more confident in Abbot’s powers than at any time since his arrival. I know that in a practical sense we will cope admirably. But like a child reading in bed I keep bargaining with God to leave the light on for just five more minutes. Please, God. Just five more minutes.
22 Feb 2004
Abbot’s my rock and deep in my heart I know we’ll be OK but right now I feel so lost and all at sea.
24 Feb 2004
There is no handbook for where I’m at now and this is so much a period of learning. I’ve no way of knowing if I’m handling things the right way. All I know is that with Abbot’s help I’m getting through it and although it may not be pretty to watch, we’re far from beaten. I’ve still got my independence. Abbot is helping me keep my dignity, which is the most important thing.
26 Feb 2004
The panic I’ve felt in recent days still rears its ugly head from time to time but I’ll be dammed if I’ll let it win. I know now just how far we’ve come and I’m not going to give up now. In Abbot’s head we two are one and in the last few days he’s assumed a new responsibility for my well-being.
I’m not facing this alone. Abbot is right here in the midst of it all, constantly checking to see if I’m OK.
10 March 2004
Today is my 44th birthday and it’s now over a month since I got the bad news from my consultant.
Days like this are landmarks. It’s time to take stock. This last month has been an emotional roller coaster. There have been days full of optimism and hope and then black days when I feel the whole world can fuck off. But I’m still here and the panic is subsiding. This is Dave plus Abbot. Nothing is impossible. I’ve placed all my faith in Abbot and he’ll get me through this period. He’s never let me down so far. He’s counting on me as much as I’m counting on him and I can’t let him down. We’re partners to the end.
Wednesday December 6th
Do you remember the story of Joseph having a dream where the angel warned him of Herod's plan and told him to take Mary and Jesus home by another way?
Well I like to think that I and dad's previous dog Abbot have taught him something about the nature of faith and that is by using a metaphor that us dogs really like, which is that "there's more than one way to skin a cat".
So let my dad tell you a story from his time with Abbot.
Dad and Abbot were going to the local newsagent, nothing unusual with that you may think except that it was teaming with rain. When it's raining guide dogs regard puddles as holes, so to them a puddle is an obstacle to be avoided, a hole is something their owner my fall down and therefor dangerous.
So off dad and Abbot set, they left the house by the usual route but half way along where Abbot would normally have taken a right turn he suddenly took a left instead, curious thought dad but he had by now learned to trust Abbot and although he did not agree with Abbot's decision he thought he'd let it go and see what Abbot had in mind.
Outside the newsagent their is part of the pavement that floods so badly that it floods the whole width of the pavement, for a guide dog this represents what is known as an "off kerb obstacle meaning that to avoid this puddle Abbot would have to step off the kerb in to the road staying tight in to the kerb until the obstacle was passed and then quickly back on to the pavement, this is a dangerous manoeuvre and one that a guide dog will only take as a last resort.
Abbot by taking a left turn rather than a right took dad the opposite way round the block, arriving at the newsagent from the other side and thus avoiding the part of the pavement that floods altogether.
There have been many times in dad's prayer life where he has questioned God saying "hang on, aren't we going the wrong way here"? Not any more.
Tuesday December 5th
My dad and I have had a busy day so sorry we're late.
Let dad explain why "Howay In A Manger" #HowayInManger.
It largely grows out of dad's love of music and how he believes God uses music to inform his faith
Music has always been so much more than an interest to me. It’s what keeps me sane in this crazy world. It often provides me with answers to questions which I don’t even consciously know I’m asking. People often talk about music as the soundtrack to their lives. For me it’s even more fundamental than that: music has been my life’s road map. It influences all my decisions and guides me to new places – often places I’d never have dreamed of going to otherwise. For me, to be a spiritual being, it must be possible for a person to be affected by music. After all, music is the language of the soul.
This is why it can often convey what would otherwise be unspeakable. For me, music can often express what’s in my heart far better than words alone.
Actually, I even have a theory about this. I have no real evidence to back it up, but nonetheless I believe it whole- heartedly. My theory is that sight impaired people make special use of music and explore its deeper meanings to an even greater extent than sighted people. Since we can’t read facial expressions or body language so successfully, we pick up all our nonverbal clues via sound. Nuance is a language we’re fluent in. Inflection and tone are our currency.
In the sighted world, I often feel at a disadvantage not being able to pick up on cues that are purely visual. It’s even easy to feel inferior or paranoid because it’s like trying to conduct an argument when only your opponent has access to the full facts.
In the world of music, on the other hand, I feel I have the upper hand. This is my home ground, a place where I feel the odds are more stacked in my favour. This is largely why music remains my favourite art form. I prefer music to literature, art or movies. With music I’m on more than just a level playing field with the sighted world... I feel like I’m the one with the upper hand.
Music has always been a safe haven for me, a kind of sanctuary and a place of retreat. Whenever I feel sad, lonely, upset, depressed or in any way troubled, the chances are I can be found listening to music or playing my guitar. When I feel like shutting the world out and telling mankind to go to hell, it will be music that brings me back out of myself. It provides me with the resolve to carry on.
Denise, my wife, has sometimes accused me of being a musical snob and to be totally fair to her, she has a point. But in the sighted world where I miss out on all the other nonverbal cues, it’s nice to feel that sometimes I’m gaining insights that sighted people are missing out on. You have access to people’s facial expression and body language. Meanwhile, I have all the nuance, inflection and tone of music. It’s my true domain.
Over the passing years, many other interests and even passions have come and often faded away. Their remnants are stacked in boxes in the attic because I try to kid myself that one day I’ll take them up again – even though we all know that’s not going to happen. Music has always remained, though.
There’s no thrill greater than rushing home with a new CD and popping it straight into the player. I still love to hang about in guitar shops, dreaming of owning their many treasures. I surround myself with musicians too. Last night I mentally compiled a list of my mates and I discovered that only three of them were not musicians.
There has always been something about the setting of words to music for me. Words set to music become more significant, their meaning stronger. Words in song embed themselves in the mind, reverberate and echo. Loudon Wainwright III, one of my favourite songwriters and a well- known hellraiser and teller of the tallest of tales, once said: ‘I cannot lie in a song.’ In fact, I often find Loudon’s songs just too painfully honest – I find myself feeling embarrassed as if I’ve overheard something private. It’s like reading someone’s diary.
The music of songwriters such as Allan Taylor, Jackson Browne, Ray Davies, Dougie MacLean and many others has often been the only thing I’ve been able to cling to. Songwriters such as these have kept me sane at times when I was closer to the edge than I’d have cared to admit. I use their songs to relate to things that are generally unspeakable, not just focusing on the lyrics but also on the backing track, which can often speak to me far more deeply. The arrangement is very important to me... it’s what conveys the artist’s smile or frown. Because of the secret messages which I feel are communicated, I like to think of music as a secret language to which only a chosen few can have access.
It’s not all positive, though. I often feel as if songs are ganging up on me. They point out my failings and shortcomings and, worst of all, they steer me in directions I’d rather not go. As I thought about this guide dog issue, I felt as if new songs were coming at me from all directions. Each one seemed to be nudging me, changing my course, pushing me forward. Most of my favourite musicians were
coming up with song after song that seemed to speak directly to me. It was as if they knew I was facing a difficult decision and they were all determined to have their say. Bloody musicians. How did they know so much about my life? I was beginning to think they might all be spying on me.
It had taken me many months to summon up the courage to go back to my consultant and have her put me on the sight impairment register. Why did I run away from her when at the following appointment she suggested what was after all the natural next step?
I’m not at this point discussing things with a living soul – not my wife, my mates, or anyone else for that matter. No one shares my thoughts and feelings. This is going to be all my own work, my grand gesture to Denise. It’ll show her that I am finally taking my sight loss seriously. At last I’ll be off the hook.
Of course, the main reason I’m not speaking to anyone about this is that I’m afraid they might hold me to anything I say. Before I make any public announcement, I need to be sure it’s something I can adjust to and live with. At this point, I’m still not sure that’s possible.
I feel as if I was managing a few steps in the direction of acceptance when that witch went and mentioned a guide dog. That buggered everything up. I’d never considered this as an option before and I’m still frantically trying to buy myself some time. I’m not at all sure I’m ready to come out of the sight impaired closet in this most public of ways.
One evening I bring some work home and take a couple of new CDs into the study with me. Through listening to Allan Taylor’s music, I’d come across the work of Dougie MacLean and I’d just bought my first Dougie CD, an album called Riof. I sit at my computer, pushing it into the CD player as I start to work.
The words on my screen begin to melt. They’re sliding down the screen, forming little puddles on my keyboard and I realise my cheeks are wet. I’m crying. Dougie has reached into my soul and one section of the song has broken me up completely. Instinctively, I know I have to notice this.
I contemplate the words as Dougie sings...
Monday December 4th
The phrase of the moment around the C of E is mutual flourishing, well let's talk about what being a guide dog owner has taught me about that especially as this little story always reminds me of this time of year
It’s midnight on an early December night and I’m standing in the middle of a very dark field. There’s no street lighting. There’s no moon. To add to my delight, it’s raining cats and guide dogs. Happy days!
The former Dave Lucas would never have come here. The very thought of it would have caused him to panic. But this isn’t the old Dave Lucas. This is Dave-plus-Abbot and things are very different now. Abbot has safely guided me to this point.
Lynne, my trainer, who’s been standing discretely behind us all the while, suddenly drops one of her little bombshells. She wants me to let Abbot off the lead for a free run. Now I really
am panicking. In situations of extreme darkness I am very disorientated. I would never have been able to negotiate my way to the middle of this field without Abbot. Now, this fool Lynne wants me to let him go. Is she mad? If he fails to return I’ll be stranded here with no way back. Oh bugger. I really don’t want to let him go.
Have you ever stood at the side of a racecourse and listened to the sound of a dozen highly tuned equine athletes thundering past? Well, that was the sound of Abbot as he thundered off into the darkness. In situations like this, 10 seconds seem like an hour and a minute more like a week. I’m in total panic! As soon as he’s gone I’ve got his whistle to my mouth, ready to recall him. Suddenly, Lynne grabs my wrist and shouts:
“Don’t you dare!”
I don’t. (You wouldn’t either, believe me.) She makes me wait for what seems like months but is probably only around three minutes. Eventually, she lets me call him in and I blow his whistle. Nothing happens. I knew it. He’s run away. I’ve been right all along. Suddenly, though, quietly in the distance I can hear a low rumble. This grows to a thundering roar, just like those racehorses, and gets louder and louder as 40 kilograms of black lab hurtle towards me out of the darkness. Then the noise stops abruptly. Panic takes over once again but, unbeknown to me, Abbot has decided to take a leap at me from about three metres away. I hear a sudden whoosh of wind and then the full 40 kilos hit me smack on the forehead, nose first. I come to. I’m flat on my back in the mud with Abbot licking my face, his tail wagging like a demented helicopter. I hear Lynne behind me, roaring with laughter.
“Well, at least he’s come back.”
I’m lying in the mud, laughing hysterically, with Abbot on top of me. She knew he’d come back. No one likes a smart arse, though, and as the laughter fades I can feel tears streaming down my face. I hope that Lynne can’t see me. I’ve been such a bloody fool. I’ve spent years running away from this moment but now Abbot’s here and I love it. I bloody love it. All those years wasted.
The next night Abbot and I go out on our own. We don’t have Lynne and her great powers to fall back on. We’re totally alone. We make our way to the edge of the field without any problem at all. As on the previous night, there’s no moon and it’s pitch dark. I’m even more scared than I was yesterday. Most frightening of all is the idea that there is no one with us if things get tricky. I know I’m mad to be doing this and if I had any sense I’d go back to the centre straight away. But as you must have learned by now, sense is not my strong point. I stand there for ages, wanting to leave but needing to stay.
Somehow I have to know that what happened yesterday evening wasn’t a fluke. I have to know it didn’t just happen because of Lynne’s great skill and expertise. I have to know that Abbot can be trusted, relied upon. If I’m going to place all my faith in this dog then I need to know that he’s worthy of it and that he won’t let me down.
Tonight it’s just me and Abbot. I’ve never pushed myself this far before. This is the stuff of nightmares and this is my way of attempting to confront them.
I give Abbot the command ‘Forward!’ and we set off for the middle of the field. This is the easy bit. With Abbot by my side I feel totally confident. But what I’m planning to do next fills me with fear.
As we stand in the centre of the field, I slip Abbot’s harness off but hold on tightly to his lead. Then I try to summon up the courage to let him go. In my pocket I finger the keys of my mobile phone and tell myself that if things go wrong I can always call for help. With a final burst of courage I unclip his lead.
In an instant he’s gone. He doesn’t even wait for a pat. Oh bugger. I’m totally alone. It’s too dark to see my watch so I’ve no idea how long he’s gone but it seems like a very long time indeed.
Eventually, I blow Abbot’s whistle and wait. Then I wait... and wait a bit more after that. There is absolutely no sign of him. Then suddenly, like before, I can hear that low rumble as he begins to thunder through the darkness.
A few moments later I feel something heavy pressing down on my feet and I can hear a thump-thump-thump sound. It’sAbbot’s tail pounding on the turf like a jack hammer. I stand in the middle of that field sobbing uncontrollably. I give Abbot a big, big fuss, slip him a treat, replace his harness and we float back to the centre.
Sunday 3rd December
My dad lost a loved one yesterdayand he's very sad. I'm just a dog and it's hard for me to know what to do when dad is sad but here is my stratergy and I recomend it to you too now as I write, which is another thing that is hard to do for a dog.
What you do is stay close, remain quiet and calm, let him know you are there without getting in the way, offer a paw, cuddle up close and simply wait. I know my dad loves me, I know in time he won't be so sad, I know that right now it's not about me and I know there will be time in the future to run on the beach, to chase a ball, to guide him down busy streets, but I know that right now he needs time, I'm just happy to lay on his feet, staying so close but at the same time not demanding anything, offering love, asking for nothing, helping him heal.
My dad always tells people this is a mutal partnership, I care for him, he cares for me,no one is keeping score, we will have plenty more days in the sun, now I must wait for my dad, I was taught how to sit and stay when I was a little puppy and I will; sit and stay till my dad's sparkle comes back and then I'let him throw my frizby for me and this time I'll even let him go fetch it for me, I'm good like that, I am.
Just to get us in to the mood for Sunday when Jarvis's blog will start proper here is a little Christmas story from Dave's book "Stepping In To The Dark" which you can download for free on the home page as sadly it is now out of print.
Since it’s the run-up to Christmas, down at the kennel block the staff are getting into a festive mood. They’re wearing party hats and they’re blowing up balloons. The kennel girls have also clubbed together and bought a Christmas tree – a really big one. It’s standing in an old oil drum and it must reach about twelve feet off the ground. These are ideal proportions as the kennel block roof must be about twenty foot high. The tree is beautifully decorated with an abundance of toys and lights. It looks stunning when we first see it, but things are about to change...
As well as the many dogs boarded in the kennels, there are also a number of cats. The cats are employed as dog trainers: it’s their job to familiarise the puppies with their
feline counterparts. This is quite simply because working guide dogs must never allow themselves to be distracted by a cat. Cats used to form a queue outside the Job Centre for these vacancies. (‘Room and board for the opportunity to take the puss out of dogs’.) Any cat would give his right paw for such a job.
Every time I go to the kennel block I’m struck by just how much the cats enjoy their work. With a taunting swagger and tails in the air they race round the rafters, some 20 feet above the dogs. This is the feline equivalent of giving the dogs the finger and the cats just love it. The dogs have been well trained and know how not to react. For the most part they manage very well and keep their base instincts in check but now and again the strain will get to one and he loses his temper. The sound of canned carols is then suddenly drowned out by a bit of barking, followed by some hissing, a bit of spitting and finally a yelp. Up in the rafters the cats chalk up another white line on their scoreboard.
Two days later I take Abbot back to the kennels to get him weighed again. As I walk through the door I feel my boot crunch on something. It’s a bit of broken tree toy. I suddenly notice that the entire floor is covered with this debris.
When I get close to the tree I see there are only three or four toys left on it. Most of the needles have been shaken off, the fairy lights are bedraggled and the whole thing looks a total mess. As Abbot and I walk towards the scales something hits the back of my head. It shatters on the concrete floor and another tree toy bites the dust. The cats are stripping the toys from the tree and taking them up to the rafters to use as bombs to drop on the dogs. It seems there is no season of goodwill in the world of cats and dogs. After he’s been weighed Abbot gives me a look which says:
‘I’ll leave them alone for now. But one day, Dad...’