An Interview with Leigh Brill
Leigh Brill is an author and a motivational speaker, she was born in North Carolina with congenital cerebral palsy. Leigh and I are yet to meet face to face and yet we have found a meeting point across the vast ranges of Blue Mountains on two continents. Here is the first part of what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue with Leigh looking at the compassionate action of her much loved Labradors and the world Leigh is now sharing with us all.
Jan.s: Leigh, we’ve yet to meet but it seems we’ve something in common!! I live in the Blue Mountains, Australia and you grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia USA. Can you tell us a little about growing up there and also why the mountains are blue?
Leigh: The Blue Ridge Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain Range in the eastern United States. As I understand it, trees put the "blue" in Blue Ridge, from the natural chemicals they release into the atmosphere; they contribute to the characteristic haze on the mountains and the distinctive color. That’s why these mountains appear blue when seen from a distance. The Blue Ridge was so much a part of my life growing up. I thought all mountains everywhere must be blue. I’ve always felt attached to these mountains — they offer a sense of peace and belonging. I remember appreciating that as a child. I still do. Nature reminds me to be still, to breathe, and to feel the joy of creation.
Jan.s: Leigh, can you recall the first books that you loved as a child?
Leigh: As a child, I loved every book I could get my hands on. One of my favorites was Where the Wild Things Are (I liked the other Maurice Sendak stories, too). I adored Dr. Seuss, as well—the creativity and the wisdom of his work always appealed to me. When I was little, I spent many long and lonely hours in the hospital—playing with words, rhyming, and creating stories helped me cope and gain a sense of control during those hard times. Sometimes, I would share my stories with other children in the hospital. That seemed to help all of us get through painful and scary things.
Jan.s: When did you begin writing?
Leigh: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. That’s part of who I am. I published my first story at fifteen. The first poem I ever wrote (I think I was six years old at the time) was called Ode to a Brussels Sprout. I remember sitting at the dinner table composing the little verse while I stared at a pile of those dreaded, bitter little vegetables on my plate: Oh little Brussels sprout sitting on my plate, you Nasty little Brussels spout, I really, really hate you. Gee, little Brussels sprout, I wish I already ate you! As I recall, that little goofy composition was quite a hit (given that I was just a kid at the time)…but I still had to eat my vegetables.
Jan.s: To quote : ‘And because of my service dogs, I have learned to define myself not by what I must overcome, but by what I have the strength to become’.
Leigh: Slugger and Kenda have offered nothing short of a transformation in my life. As a child and young adult, my days were marked by physical pain, frightening operations, difficult therapy, and the frustrating realization that no matter how hard I tried, there were some things I just could not do.
I used to watch other children walk smoothly across a room, but when I tried to do the same, my muscles refused to cooperate. My body behaved like a complicated toy that never worked the way I wanted it to. I tried so hard to keep up with people around me —I was taught that keeping up, looking ‘normal’ was the only way I could be as good as everyone else. So for years, that’s what I did—or at least that’s what I tried to do. I thought my own worth was measured not by the way that I lived, but by the way that I moved. A Labrador—a dog named Slugger—taught me otherwise.
Slugger’s eager assistance turned challenges into possibilities. With my service dog by my side, I could walk—even in crowded places—without falling. I could depend on my dog to retrieve things I dropped and carry my belongings. Slugger brought me a sense of confidence, self-worth, and completeness. Other people noticed him too. The stares and pitying whispers I’d known all through my childhood were quickly replaced by expressions like, “Wow, what a great dog!” That’s something Kenda and I hear a lot these days, too. Because of my service dogs, I know that the sweetest devotion can pass from one heart to another without a sound. I am grateful for such unconditional love. I’m inspired, too. Slugger and Kenda remind me that gifts are most beautiful when they are shared. I hope that my work will pass along some of the gifts they first shared with me.
That’s what it’s all about.