“Touching the Rock” is a book about the art of living. How to be happy in spite of blindness. How to love life, the taste of life, how to be joyful. It is about the crisis of descent into the life of total blindness. This is how the book was characterized by the organizers of the event.
The idea to translate the book belongs to Oksana Vyniarska – a social pedagogue, family consultant, coordinator of the educational program “Medical-psychological and social accompaniment of people with special needs.”
“In 1996 I started to work at the Educational Rehabilitation Centre “Levenia” for children with visual impairments. One day a friend of mine from Germany, Gaby Feigl, – she’s had a big experience of working with blind children and those having weak eyesight – presented me a book “Im Dunkeln sehen. Erfahrungen eines Blinden.” It was a German translation from the original edition “Touching the Rock. An Experience of Blindness.” There are books you refer to time and again, so “In Dunkeln sehen” started to accompany me all the time, I was reading and rereading it all over again. These were, in fact, distant conferences from John Hull. Also, I was always reading with a pencil, jotting down thoughts born in my mind on the margins of the book pages, comparing the things I read about with my new experience of the teacher in “Levenia.” This was a period of “carrying the book”, which lasted for several years. Its author, John Hull, seemed to become my old friend. I came up with an idea to translate the book. Why not to write a letter to England? Maybe the author will allow to translate the book into Ukrainian? The author responded right away, “Go ahead. The book must serve people,” Oksana Vyniarska shares her memories.
For the organizer of the event and publication of the book – Emmaus Centre – publication of books about blind people is a new project. The Centre mostly deals with the support of people with mental disabilities and their families. However, it is called “Emmaus” – the centre of spiritual support of people with special needs – and visually impaired people also have their special needs. Society does not fully realize their problems, is not sufficiently adapted and needs to be taught by them. When Oksana Vyniarska told the head of the Emmaus Centre about this project, Christina Angles d’Auriac was deeply moved by the fact that the text, which may become a guideline, had been translated into Ukrainian long ago and had not been published for the lack of funds. According to Christina, this book became a challenge for Emmaus – not to be just another publication but a call to wake up all of us. The main idea of the book – “to see and to believe” – coincides with the Centre’s vocation – to learn to see in a different way, to trust God’s plans in spite of misfortune, as well as to build bridges between the two worlds – between the world of blind and sighted, who are really in need of each other.
In his book John Hull tries to analyze his condition, records his impressions on the Dictaphone, aiming to help not only himself but also those who cannot fight the crisis so relentlessly. He talks about the relationships where feelings are not silenced, where people discuss sad and joyful things, where children are explained complicated things in a simple way for the sake of their security. The professor thinks not only about blind people but also about their milieu.
Presentation of this book became something more than a literary and music event, since the audience together with the quests, who took the floor, created the atmosphere of sincerity, warmth, acceptance and mutual understanding. There was a packed audience. It is very important that there were both sighted and blind people. Complete darkness at the beginning of the event, reading extracts from the book against the background of sounds of wind, rain, bells helped sighted people to feel and share at least for some moments the things lived by blind people every day. John Hull’s voice during the reading of extracts was the chief stage director of the Hnat Khotkevych Palace of Culture Valeriy Moskalenko. Amiability and sincerity of the hostess Natalia Krynychanka created a special atmosphere. Everyone was touched by the story of creating the translation, told by Oksana Vyniarska, who initiated and did the translation. Musical performances and personal witnessing of visually impaired guests made people think over not only the book but also over our relationships with those who live side by side with us, though in a slightly different world. So simple and direct were the words of a sightless woman Tetiana Herasika, “You shouldn’t be afraid of us”, while Oksana Potymko, director of projects on adaptation of living space for people with severe visual impairments, who lost sight at the age of 25, remarked, “Every lived day is a heroic act. Sometimes ordinary shopping is a heroic act.”
As it was voiced by some members of the audience at the end of the presentation, this event must become a new page, new stage in cooperation, living together and mutual understanding between sighted and sightless in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Society of Blind People is already preparing an audio-version of the book, and soon it will be accessible for visually impaired people as well.