6/13/2015—Book Review: Disarmed An Exceptional Journey, by Ginger Manley.
The subtitle “An Exceptional Journey” for Ginger Manley’s, Disarmed, is indeed an accurate description of this remarkable memoir. It is a story of a fifty-year relationship with her husband, John Manley, a relationship with a doubtful beginning. It is an inspiring account of the couple’s fortitude in overcoming horrendous physical trauma, homelessness, and the overwhelming odds of keeping their marriage intact. The divorce rate in couples with a disability is ninety percent. This is the story of how the Manley’s beat those odds.
It’s 1965 and the world is John Manley’s oyster. A standout high school athlete, graduate of Virginia Military Institute, an Air Force Second Lieutenant flying jet planes and driving a fancy sports car, John had the best that life could offer before him. But it all changed on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in Georgia on September 18, 1965 when he walked into an airplane’s rotating propeller. His injuries were significant and his survival in doubt, but survive he did.
Two years later, while touring Europe, Ms. Manley meets her future husband, whom she describes as “an annoying American man.” While John may have lost an arm he apparently never lost his confidence. Within two months of meeting on a train in Switzerland they were married in East Tennessee.
Ms. Manley truly establishes that the phrase “love is blind” is not just a cliché, when she writes, “…I had never really noticed the angry red scar running the length of the side of his head, nor the fact that he could only lift the right side of his mouth when he smiled, or that his left eye drooped, nor had I really paid any attention to his not having a full left ear. I did not see any of these distinctive marks until I saw them in our wedding pictures.”
As with many young couples reality set in all too soon after a storybook romance. Dreams change and life can become a struggle as we try to find our place in the world, and this was no different, and even more challenging, for the Manley’s. Without sentimentality Ms. Manley tells of the extended hardship of relocation, unemployment, and homelessness. In 1977, ten years after their whirlwind romance and marriage, John Manley earns a Masters in Business Administration degree and steps into a new and successful career path.
Making frequent appearances throughout Disarmed, like a faithful dog, is a third character: John’s artificial hand. Or perhaps more accurately, his hands, for there are many. There is the flesh-toned five-fingered myoelectric hand, and two types of the two-pronged metal hook, and then there are the variations of the hook prosthesis for golf, skiing, tennis, for eating lobster and crab legs, for barbecuing and for heavy-duty lifting. One might image that reading about John’s life with these prosthesis would be a grim telling, but it’s not. Ms. Manley skillfully peppers her book with humorous antidotes of the adventures of Ginger, John, and The Hand.
The life’s lessons in Disarmed are of value to anyone, but especially to families of amputees. Today our country is in a war that seems to have no end. Daily our young men are returning with catastrophe injuries. Medical miracles are giving them a form of physical recovery, but they need more. The life the Manley’s have lived is more that surviving, more that enduring; it is a life that thrived on adversity. In spite of terrible trauma, John Manley found marriage to a beautiful and successful woman, maintained his pilot’s license, hunted, fished, skied, played tennis, earned an MBA, and at age 45, graduated from law school.
Disarmed is an inspiring story of courage, victory, success, and love.