John Howard GRIFFIN, Scattered Shadows: A Memoir of Blindness and Vision. Washington, D.C: Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications, 2003. pp. 290. $13.95 pb. ISBN 0-935216-30-8.
Reviewed by Georgie Ann WEATHERBY, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA 99258-0065

As the introduction to Scattered Shadows poignantly states, Griffin, also the author of Black Like Me, awakens realization in his readers that to be the "other" can stem not only from one's race, but from one's lack of sight. Both are statuses relegated as "inferior" and as "different." Each is stereotyped by mainstream society without any notion of individual qualities. Each, in reality, allows the person with the designated "flaw" to discover the "greater humanity in otherness" (pg. 10).

Slowly losing sight after a 1945 war injury, Griffin had no vision from 1946 to 1957 (from ages 26 to 37). Pre-injury, we see the war through his eyes and the eyes of his fellow troops. We question the consistency of faith along with them, and understand that in times of desperation, these men turn to Jesus as if they had been intensely religious always.

The ravages of war are analyzed introspectively, and a piercing question is posed: "...In this musical dialogue with God, Beethoven restored too clearly the universal order of things. Hearing this, feeling it, how could a man cause another's heart to stop, erase his future eatings and love-makings and sorrows and joys, cause his love for wife or children or parents—and theirs for him—to undergo death's modulation?" (pp. 29-30).

Being hit, and experiencing the first sensations of blindness, Griffin managed his stigma, to avoid endless Army hospital stays. W.I. Thomas' "definition of the situation" (if you define a situation as real, it will be real in its consequences) comes to mind as Griffin, now back in the United States, deals with impending blindness. His fiercest struggles, he confides, "would not be against losing sight, but against the assaults of public opinion about blindness that would judge [the] condition tragic" (pg. 41).

And so the drinking in began. Attentiveness replaces the fog of normal distraction. One's own inner world connects to the outside as never before. Giving himself over, Griffin went out to the world, embracing it "as is," not moving to change it somehow into his own "bounded" reality. One values, once and for all, the invaluable. "Faced with nothing, very little becomes everything" (pg. 42).

Griffin learns from an old man, blind from birth, to preserve his self-respect above all else. He also learns of the humanity surrounding him. People will reveal themselves to you as they never would to another— because you can never identify them (pg. 64). When blind, one is known for only WHAT they are, not WHO they are (pg. 65).

Griffin eventually arrives at the realization that "a life without sight [is] as interesting as a life with sight" (pg. 74). He ends up at a monastery studying Gregorian Chant—which "floated in long undulating lines as a feather might float on the waves of a sea" (pg. 77). Again, he becomes "adventure-prone" without intention. Through mutual connections, he becomes fast friends with the great poet, Pierre Reverdy and his wife, Henriette. Tied to Picasso, Braque, Bores, and the likes, Griffin becomes familiar through association with these great thinkers and artists.

Due to the treatment of him as a blind man, he began to wonder "if a blind man weren't less blind alone than in the presence of others" (pg. 106). Further, loss of fear frees you in blindness to find your way—and take the necessary risks of learning in a new, more perceptive way. In handling the gift of blindness, one becomes so immersed in discovery that they never stop to dwell on the condition as tragic (pg. 117). And sighted people reveal themselves in new ways: 'Tough-talking thugs show thoughtfulness, the pious show callousness, the learned show stupidity' (pg. 120).

Griffin raised prize-winning livestock "by feel" in his "manual" self-imposed therapy phase. Next came novel writing, based on musical forms with fiction constructed on them. The characters enter as, for instance, Beethoven's themes enter, and are developed in the same way (pg. 133). This resembled the monastic spirituality of the eternal chants. Other types of writings followed.

By spring of 1951, Griffin's conversion to Catholicism formally began, in an effort to "love God freely" (pg. 141). At the age of 31, the process was complete. Profoundly, he notes "faith had replaced logic, erasing the need for further proof" (pg. 142).

Griffin concludes the last third of the book by analyzing the challenges of love and marriage, the deep idea of the "lost soul," our formation of opinion based solely on one's looks (and the problems people have as a result of such surface ideals), how a true writer views life (with more zeal than others, in their own joy as well as tragedy), the nightmare of being pitiable (due to the loss of mobility encountered beyond the initial blindness), the perils of censorship, and finally the shock of regaining sight, arriving at the conclusion that "man's potential for experiencing misery is in direct proportion to his capacity for loving." Further, "the man who takes small pleasure in things must never be confused with the one who takes pleasure in small things" (pg. 173). We are bound in judgment by our bodies (pg. 175).

In sum, we learn from Griffin that life is entirely determined by attitude. We CHOOSE to be adventure-prone, or not. 'Blindness is a revelation because it exposes the enormous ability we have to be distracted by the things of the world... being sightless demands that we learn from experience in the most primal, clarifying manner' (pg. 19). In a word, Scattered Shadows is magnificent—as a private read or as a dynamic classroom choice.

TO ORDER BOOKS: - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books