Opal goes to Sunday school

Actually,  Universalist Unitarians call it RE or Religious Education.  There are no Bible studies and I don’t think there is anything particular religious about it.  UU kids learn about many things with the hope that it prepares them to become good human beings and citizens who care about others.  Today, Opal and I visited with the kids ‘upstairs’.  Our church is housed in a historic building. Originally, it had been two large, private homes with several staircases and many rooms of all sizes.  We had pre-arranged our visit with the RE teacher.  The number of kids in the RE class varies from week to week. Today, there were ten or so. They ranged in age between 2 and 10. Opal knew something was going to be different the minute we entered church.  She wanted to take me to ‘my seat’, but I coaxed her to the front row. We sat on the floor with the young ones during the ‘Story For All Ages’.  Then, when the congregation began to sing, “Go Now In Peace”, to usher the kids out of the room where the service is held,  I asked her to “follow”.  Up the multiple stairways that twist and turn we went  with a backpack full of ‘stuff’.  We often go to schools to talk to kids about Guide dog etiquette and also about vision loss and ‘blind stuff’.  The difference today, was the age spread of our audience.  It’s difficult to keep things simple enough for everyone to understand.  Still, I think it was a good learning experience for them.  The first question was, “what happens if Opal becomes blind”?    This, oddly enough, is not the first time I have been asked this or something similar. I was once asked, if Opal’s mom had been blind.   Other questions have included, “Does she take a bath with you?”, “Does she chase cats?”, and “Will she always be your dog?”.  Jordan (the one who asked about Opal going blind) was tenacious.  Her follow up question was, “Would she still be able to work if she was blind?”  Once we established how unlikely that would be to occur, we talked about Opal’s job and why she must be allowed to concentrate.  I must confess, I had an ulterior motive in planning to  visit the kids… I have noticed that several of them come up and pat and talk to Opal as we are walking through the crowded church entry area and fellowship room.  My solution?  Be proactive and chat them up and sort them out as a group.  I offered ourselves as guest speakers, and the RE teacher was delighted to plan for our visit. ( I do most of the talking. Opal is the silent type).  The culprits who pat her, may or may not have been present today,  but kids tend to share their information with each other.   I hope so.  It’s always surprising for kids (and adults) to learn that the approximate cost of putting a Guide dog into the hands of a blind person, is in excess of $35,000.00.  We also brought gadgets which usually interest kids.  The talking calculator drew some “Neat!”s. The Braille kids books were also interesting for some.  I pointed out that blind people do not all know Braille but I find it very useful.  Out came the Braille tags which are used to put on clothing, the labeler to create stick on labels, and examples of a Braille phone bill and bank statement.  They peered through the vision simulator cards I had brought. These are plastic cards with circles to peer through, with each circle providing a simulation of what things might l0ok like with diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, cataracts or glaucoma.  Opal, meanwhile had a power nap.  She woke up periodicaly to comfort the little guy (2 years old) who was in the care of a family friend today (not too happy to away from mom).  When the service downstairs could be heard wrapping up,  the kids began to collect their things. Opal and I  packed up and left to find one of the many twisty stairways down to the ground floor.  We ended up in the fellowship room where everyone usually gathers to shares tea and coffee after the service. At least three older ladies and one man asked to pet Opal.   I realized that our work was not done yet!  Finally, I decided to have EVERYONE who wanted, a chance to greet her…”Get it out of your system today” I suggested. The UU church dog lovers gave her a pat or two and thanked me.  They said they would be OK from now on. I’m not entirely convinced.  We may end up having a similar talk on Guide dog etiquette  with the grown ups some time. 

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