The Gift

by Guiding Eyes graduate Sally Rosenthal

Graduate Sally Rosenthal with retired guide dog, BoiseWhen my paratrooper father jumped out of an airplane sixty-nine years ago and landed on the Normandy beach during the D-Day invasion, he was only one of five men in his company who survived. Scarcely twenty-two with a few years of war behind him, he returned to his base in England and married his English girlfriend after the whirlwind romances common in wartime. Within three years, the couple had moved to a small town In Pennsylvania to begin their married life without the separation and anxiety of war.

If my father had any of the post-traumatic stress disorder so common to today’s returning troops, he never displayed them or spoke much about his war experiences. Instead, he chose to settle in his hometown among a closely-knit family, raise two children, and enjoy the small pleasures of everyday life since one never could take them for granted. Having survived the war, my father knew all too well that fate was random and life was to be cherished — especially when life took some unexpected turns such as a daughter who began losing vision in middle age and his doctor confirmed a diagnosis of kidney cancer shortly after my father retired.  

Because my family did what loving families do, I offered my father a kidney, and he told me he wished he could give me both of his eyes. As it turned out, he was not able to receive a transplant and died two years before I became totally blind and applied for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Although I was sorry to have lost my father as well as all of my light perception, I was even sorrier that my father, a life-long  dog lover, would never meet my guide dog or know how much that dog enhanced my life.

When my first guide dog Boise arrived for home training in 2003, I was told that her Guiding Eyes identification tattoo was BB0001; this meant that she was born into the second litter of puppies all named with names beginning with B in the year 2000 and that she was the first-born of her litter. That was certainly one way to understand her tattoo, but I realized there was another far more important way to interpret it: my father Bill Bennett who had died on January 1, 2000. BB0001.  I am a woman who,  over the years, has learned to look for and be grateful for signs and omens. As I stroked Boise’s broad head, I smiled through tears and knew with absolute certainty that my father, safe in heaven from war and illness, had sent me a message through my dog’s tattoo number. He might not have been able to give me his own eyes, but my father knew that another creature would provide the help his daughter needed.