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Twilight: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight
by Henry Grunwald

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Twilight: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight

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Twilight: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight
by Henry Grunwald
Alfred A. Knopf (1999)
ISBN: 0375404228
Genre: Autobiography, Eye Diseases - Macular Degeneration

Reviewed by Carrie Smoot - September 10, 2001

In 128 pages, Twilight covers a lot of history, reflection and guidance about living with age-related macular degeneration. The writing of it, which grew out of a New Yorker article, is poetry. Grunwald, retired editor-in-chief of Time, Inc. publications, spent his working life surrounded by words—enjoying the printed page but always taking the ability to see for granted. He also served as U.S. ambassador to Austria.

Even though difficult times lay ahead, he used his journalism background and can-do attitude to learn more about his condition and the history of eye treatment. Knowing more about the lives of artists Monet and Degas, the author James Thurber and many other historical figures, let him know he wasn't alone. Grunwald includes a brief bibliography for curious readers.

Grunwald was on vacation in Florence, Italy in 1992 when he spilled water from a carafe in a darkened restaurant corner. Embarrassed, he railed inwardly against the manager, who, he presumed, didn't want to spend very much on light bulbs. Deep down, though, Grunwald knew he probably needed new glasses.

Medical visits weren't what he expected. Grunwald was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a progressive disease of the retina that affects people over 60. Dark, light, or blurry spots appear over central vision, forcing people to develop, in Grunwald's words, "the art of seeing…seeing not only with the eyes but with imagination" and taking care "not to be constrained by labels." Since Grunwald had a more serious form of AMD, his doctors advised laser surgery. When the procedure didn't fix the problems, Grunwald had to accept his failing eyesight:

So much of what I was normally able to see was already fading. I became a visual glutton, devouring the images around me in order somehow to hold on to them before they grew even dimmer. The faces of people I loved—my wife, my children, my grandchildren, many friends. Chance glimpses of youngsters at play in Central Park. Old men in peaceful combat playing chess in Washington Square. The Manhattan skyline in cold, pure autumn light…(pp. 26-27).
Although he enjoyed a 1994 India trip, he poignantly related how the bright colors of that country were fading. In the beginning, he found it difficult to talk about his condition with family and friends. He began to suspect AMD in strangers who walked carefully down stairs, held menus close to their faces, and who didn't quite focus on you during a conversation. Grunwald felt he was being unwillingly drafted into a secret society. Gradually, he was able to share experiences and talk about being a "macular degenerate."

But life goes on. Matter-of-factly, he describes plunging into the world of visual aids, which included many kinds of magnifiers. Finding ways to read was the "visual equivalent of struggling for breath." Being read to made him feel helpless and passive, although he worked with several readers, including his wife, Louise. He investigated various reading programs, magnifiers, closed circuit TVs, audiobooks, computer scanners and more.

Readjustment included independence workshops and everyday experiences, and Grunwald met many positive people who influenced his thinking and view of himself. He was able to find humor in the difficulty of recognizing people. When making speeches, he gave up handwritten notes and memorization for well-thought-out ideas and natural, paraphrased remarks. He still enjoys visiting art galleries, if works are well lit and he can get close to them. He also uses audio tours, which he previously disdained. Even though he still decapitates people, photography is a favorite hobby with an enlarged viewfinder.

In short, life is good, but different.


Carrie Smoot is a freelance writer in Falls Church, Va. She has wide-ranging interests and a love of reading.
Macular Degeneration Links:

Macula.org -- http:// www.macula.org/

American Macular Degeneration Foundation – http://www.macular.org/

Macular Degeneration Foundation -- http://www.eyesight.org/

The Macular Degeneration Network -- http://www.macular-degeneration.org/

MD Support: The Eyes of the Macular Degeneration Community – http://members.aol.com/danlrob/MDpeople/

Macular Degeneration International – http://www.maculardegeneration.org/


Organizations Henry Grunwald talks about in Twilight:

Library of Congress (National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped) – http://www.loc.gov/nls/

Andrew Heiskell Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (New York City) – http://www.nypl.org/branch/lb/

National Association for Visually Handicapped – http://www.navh.org/

Lighthouse International - http://www.lighthouse.org/


Copyright © Carrie Smoot - 2001



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