Most readers of this inspirational biography will not have heard of its author. Yet, in the overlapping worlds of politics and government, as well as entrepreneurism and philanthropy, Sandy Greenberg is more than well known. He is a legend. His sense of responsibility started early; with his father’s early demise, he became the head of a nearly impoverished household. Even then, this Buffalo native saw responsibility as opportunity.
When he lost his eyesight in his junior year at Columbia University, he was understandably crushed, but he showed great resilience. In ways that this memoir makes powerfully real, he set as a goal to not be blind. Impossible, right? However, by exercising imagination and perseverance through the losses due to blindness, Greenberg found the means to accomplish his goals.
As he remembers his difficult steps, they become lodged in his readers’ minds. He worked in President Lyndon Johnson’s White House, finished graduate studies at Harvard University, and made and held onto good friends, some of whom contribute to this book. He found the perfect wife and with her shared the joys and challenges of parenthood. His opinions were sought in the corridors of power, including his investment savvy. (He had a home in The Watergate Hotel.) He did not let his blindness dictate the path of his life. His story is a tonic for those whose setbacks lead to self-doubt, bitterness, and frustration. He learned how to imagine what he could not see.
Greenberg shares all this with a mixture of humility and pride. While considering himself the luckiest man in the world, Greenberg continues to pursue goals old and new. One of these is the elimination of all forms of blindness. Though he is not heavy handed about it, Greenberg attributes his values in large part to his Jewish upbringing, the tenants of which have stayed part of his life. He takes responsibility for tikkun olam (repair of the world) seriously.
The book provides a long list of appointments that have been foisted upon this nonstop giver over the years; he is Chairman of the Board of Governors of The Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science and of the Council on Foreign Relations, he was appointed by President Clinton to the national Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation, and was a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University.
The book gains a lot of energy from its dynamic portrait of his long-time friendship with Art Garfunkel, who may have paved the way to his inevitable and perfect book title, “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend,” which is the name of one of Simon and Garfunkel’s biggest hits. Or maybe Paul Simon had something to do with it.
Greenburg is genuinely thankful to all those who served as his “readers.” By listening to them voice assigned college texts, he could intellectually and emotionally master all that his eyes could not discern. His readers will be similarly thankful.
Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English at the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.