This reading group guide forHope Unseen includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Scotty Smiley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Captain Scotty Smiley was a man who had it all—a beautiful wife, an unwavering faith in God, and a bright future ahead of him in the United States Army. West Point, however, could not prepare him for April 6, 2005, when a suicide bomber set off a chain of events that left him blind for the rest of his life.
Scotty refused to let his blindness define him, and with a host of helpers including his wife Tiffany, his dog Ocean, and countless servicemen and women, he remained determined to serve his country. In 2007 he was named the Army Times Soldier of the Year. As the only blind active-duty officer, As the only blind active-duty officer, Scotty is now an executive officer at Gonzaga University’s ROTC program. Since losing his sight, he has surfed in Hawaii, climbed Mount Rainier, and graduated from the Duke University MBA program—he credits this all to his faith in God.
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. The inscription that Scotty requested on his West Point class ring became a sort of motto for him throughout the book: Phil 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” How might the significance of this verse differ for him, before and after coming back from Iraq? What does it mean to you?
2. Reflect for a moment on the title of this book: Hope Unseen. What were some of the turning points in the book that enabled Scotty to see hope for himself in spite of his blindness? What part of this hope came from inside? What part came from other people and other sources?
3. One of the unquestionable heroes of this book is Scotty’s wife Tiffany. Discuss how Tiffany’s role in Scotty’s life changed over time. How would you have responded in her situation? What would you have done differently?
4. Scotty’s relationship with Jeff Van Antwerp was important to him throughout the book. In what ways did Jeff help Scotty believe in himself so surely again? Why do you think Scotty’s success was so important to Jeff?
5. Scotty and Tiffany’s trip to Hawaii seemed like a very important affirmation to them that they could continue to have some degree of normalcy in their lives. But what did you make of Scotty’s personal quest while in Hawaii to learn to surf? Was he endangering himself, or challenging himself? Did Tiffany have a right to be concerned?
6. The death of Captain Bill Jacobsen was an event that left Scotty reeling, and had a ripple effect across the rest of the narrative. When Captain Van Antwerp replaces Jacobsen, he demands that the Golden Rule be followed: “There will be no revenge for Bill Jacobsen’s death, no wanton destruction” (p.46.) In what way do you think this event and the implementation of the Golden Rule shapes the way Scotty thinks about his blindness as he is coming to terms with it?
7. Should Scotty ultimately forgive the terrorist for what happened, or would that be a sign of weakness? What role do forgiveness and redemption play in Hope Unseen?
8. In chapter 13, “For Worse,” we see Scotty beginning to question his faith and his relationship with Tiffany as a result of this. It culminates in Tiffany leaving his bedside for the first time at Walter Reed. How might his relationship with Tiffany (and ultimately his life in general) turned out differently had he not rediscovered his faith?
9. Scotty insists on multiple occasions that he would never have had a chance to meet Coach K, get his MBA at Duke, or even return to West Point if it had not been for his blindness. Is Scotty right or wrong? Why? Where might Scotty be if he wasn’t blind?
10. Scotty’s relationship with his son Grady at the end of the book is wonderfully heartwarming and fascinating. How would you feel if you were never able to see your own child? What tidbits surprised you about his relationship with Grady?
11. What do you think the future has in store for Scotty?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. In chapter 19, while venting some of his frustrations, Scotty says “I don’t want pity, but just close your eyes for an hour and sit in your living room. It gets boring pretty quick” (p.165.) While an hour may be a bit too much time to devote to this exercise, try and close your eyes for just five or ten minutes.Try to do some simple tasks that you would normally have no trouble doing. How did it feel?
2. Has this book moved you? If you’d like to give back, why not make a donation to the AmericanCenter for the Blind at https://www.afb.org/cc_gift.asp. Scotty’s story is one of many remarkable successes achieved by people who have lost their eyesight. Learn more and make a small donation as a book club.
3. The story continues at the website maintained by Crandall and Smiley—www.HopeUnseen.com. Learn more about Scotty’s experiences teaching at West Point, and about the events and people featured in Hope Unseen.
A CONVERSATION WITH SCOTTY SMILEY
One of the most touching moments of the book was when your then puppy, Ocean, brought you home in the middle of the night when you were lost on a walk. How is Ocean doing now, and how has she improved your quality of life?
Ocean is an amazing friend and has always been present, every time I needed a friend. Her love and companionship has been truly wonderful. The strength she brought me, when I was hurting and searching, gave me a purpose and was a guiding light. Waking up to take her to the bathroom, taking her for a walk (whether or not I knew where I was going), teaching her to sit, teach, or come gave me a reason to think about something else, instead of my own pity. Part of my recovery process was to stop feeling sorry for myself and instead think about helping and assisting others in there trials in life, even if it means an amazing dog, Ocean.
She enjoys a wonderful life in Indiana with my and Tiffany’s friends Carl and Jamie Evans. They have four beautiful children that love to play and love on our friend, Ocean.
The book is nearly as much the story of your wife Tiffany as it is the story of you; she is such a wonderful woman. Do you think Tiffany has gotten the recognition she deserves for being an all-time-great Army wife? Do you think you could have been as strong a husband if the situation was reversed?
Tiffany is an amazing, beautiful woman who has loved me every step of our wonderful journey. She continues to guide me and assist me in every new adventure we have together.
I would never know what life we would be living now, if the roles were reversed. However, I do know that my love for my beautiful bride has never ceased or diminished. Recovery for me was very difficult and challenging, as I am sure it is for everyone. It was Tiffany’s love, encouragement, and strength that pulled me out of my despair. It was this love that brought my eyes back to the Lord and assisted me in understanding that God has a purpose behind every challenging event in our lives. So, I just pray that I could have loved and cared for her half the amount that she has loved and cared for me.
What do you think is the most important lesson one can learn about leadership? Have you learned your most valuable lessons before or after blindness?
Leadership is a subject that we never stop learning about – it’s about us; who we are and how we treat others. I learned so much from my life growing up in my family, in college, and in the Army. Blindness has taught me that many times in life there are small things to worry about that may not make a bit of difference to my ultimate purpose in life. Instead, blindness has given me the ability to focus on assisting others, just as my wife, family and friends did for me. So, with leadership, God has taught me if we are not living for Him, we have no true purpose that means anything for eternity.
What has your relationship with Mike Krzyzewski, coach of Duke and the USA Basketball team, meant for you personally? Were you an admirer of his before meeting him?
I have always looked up to amazing leaders like Coach K. I loved watching him coach team after team in the NCAA Championships with Duke. Meeting him brought that image – his emotions and personality – into real form. It allowed me to see his leadership. He taught me how to communicate to others around me despite their age, race, or gender. He says it is about getting to know those who you are leading – they give you the ability (the privilege) to lead.
He is a hero of mine. His leadership on and off the court is respectable and caring. I hope one day that I can be a great leader like Coach K.
(Note: the behind the Duke Team seats were amazing. Thanks, Coach K.)
Toward the end of the book you reflect on your son Grady, and what it was like meeting him without ever seeing him. How have you managed as a blind father? Are your kids old enough yet to understand your situation? What lessons do you think you are passing onto your children that you would not have done if you hadn’t lost your sight?
My children are the most amazing things my wife could have blessed me with. Their love and personalities brighten my day. They put a smile on my face, despite what mood I am in.
I hope to teach them all that I have learned in life. But, I think most importantly, I must teach them about a personal relationship with God. I pray, read the Bible, and sing Christian songs to them every day. It is this love for God that I believe every person on Earth should want to pass to there children and others around them.
My blindness, that God has blessed me with, teaches me about why we are here on Earth, to Love Him. To love God — that is what I desire and strive to teach my children..
You seem to be a true extreme sports enthusiast, having surfed, skied; mountain climbed, and even skydived since becoming blind! Do you have any athletic challenges that you are currently working toward achieving?
Strongest Man on Earth could be a challenge but my 195 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal may be a bit much. No, I cannot really think of anything I have desired to do that I have not done. As opportunities and challenges face me, I discuss with my wife what we think I should do, and then I jump on to the challenge.
How did the writing process work with your co-author Doug Crandall? Were there any frustrations in trying to get your story down on paper, or was it fairly easy to organize your thoughts and experiences and collaboratively transform them into a book?
Doug is an amazing man. His ability to transfer my story into writing is an amazing feat. I tell everyone that I do not like to talk, but I believe Doug will tell everyone otherwise.
There were many difficult times replaying hard situations that my family has gone through, but I believe God opened up these opportunities for my recovery. Hearing them come out of my mouth and come from others was a helpful process in my recovery.
Doug did the majority of the writing. First, we wanted it to be a third person narrative. In the end, we believed it would sound so much better coming from a first person narrative, from my voice. With this, we deleted a lot of “bragging” about me. I also wanted a lot of description so the reader could live the life I was living instead of just hearing a good story. Doug did an amazing job putting feeling, emotion, and description through out the entire story. Editing was difficult and tedious. Again, Doug took the charge and poured through each sentence, if not word, stroking the story and giving it one voice. I also wanted each character to be described as accurately as possible. “Possible” meant my version, as jaded as it may be, but true to the experiences that I had with them. I never wanted a family, friend, or loved one to look lesser than what they are in life. In the end, when it was done, I told Doug that I wanted to meet the main character, because he sounded like a stud.
Now that you have added author to your list of accomplishments, do you have any plans to collaborate on another book? Is there any other subject that you’d like to tackle next?
Well, I will leave the writing up to Doug. I am not sure if any more crazy things will happen in my life but I know that Tiffany has an amazing story she would love to tell. Doug is a phenomenal gentleman. His love and consideration for my family and friends mean the world to me. The joy he has brought to our lives will never be forgotten. Thank you Doug.