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“This is a journey, and each one travels differently.” Thus spoke the ophthalmologist to his impatient patient, a man chomping at the bit to return to “normalcy.”
The doctor quietly but firmly repeated his message, adding that everyone heals differently. Each lens implant adheres uniquely, conforming to the individual shape of the eye. His lesson was clear. The voyage toward improved vision may be walked together, but each voyager experiences it personally and, in a sense, alone.
The words were as challenging as they were consoling, especially for a man who was impatiently eager to resume his preferred lifestyle, one that revolves about reading, painting, and watching educational television programs. Waiting to see is not easy, but it is crucial to successful sight.
I commiserated with my husband’s angst. The daily regimen of drops, the donning of goggles for eye protection while he slept, the list of taboos was not fun. Worse yet, these were hindrances to his chosen way of living freely.
“Had I known it was going to mean all this stuff...” The remainder of the sentence hung unspoken. He knew there was no choice in the matter. If he would have improved vision, if he would avoid complete blindness, the removal of the cataracts was unavoidable.
The statement lingered, “If I had known...” Was there a lesson to be learned in this cry? Was it a divine commission to stop doing and renew being? Was it a command to live each moment, to live now, without equating success by the amount of things accomplished in the course of a day or week? Was this a call, a reminder, that Lent and life, alike, are journeys into the unknown, those strange places where God is discovered anew because we are forced into a different view of the divine?
Faith is basic to this growth trip. We believe and trust God will show us the way to the appointed destination. Faith commands the removal of all spiritual cataracts while demanding that we walk the path without sight. It’s a strangely wonderful paradox.
Interestingly, we often engage with the process when we are faced with the “little” upsets of life. I watch as our elderly neighbor battles the cross of a fractured wrist. At first, it was a minor annoyance, painful but endurable. As the days wore into weeks, his frustration grew. His movements were hampered. What little he could accomplish took far longer than usual. Already suffering from the onslaught of aging into his 90s, he grew ever more impatient with the healing process that seemed to be taking forever. A fall that resulted in fracture was not in his life plan. Life, surely, was not meant to be lived with one arm in a sling. Yet, there it was, his constant companion.
Yes, things could be worse. Things are worse, for many people, both locally and across the globe. But, the common denominator is the unexpected, the call to venture into the unknown and find that God is there with us.
One way to respond to that call of the wild is described by the artist Daud Akhriev when he told his son Timor, “You will never figure out anything with your head hanging down all the time. Try to walk around, for maybe on hour, always looking around you. Learn to look at the world, and see it.” Whatever comes our way, whether we stumble upon it or stumble because of it, is worthy of being seen.
When I was asked to write this column more than five years ago, I decided to call it A Second Look. Most people look at the surface of things. They see only the first sight. The idea for the title came to me as I read the story in the Gospel according to Mark of Jesus’ healing the blind man of Bethsaida. On this occasion, the cure occurred in stages. At first, when the man looked, he could see people but they looked like trees walking. When Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again, “he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” [Mark 8:25]
It was the second touch, the second and more intently focused look, that brought true vision. Now, the sight included insight and all was seen as it really was. No reason is given for the first, impaired vision. The story only mentions the result and reality of the second touch and second look.
The content of the story is equally valid today. Too often we walk through life with impaired vision. We see people but they look like trees walking, objects to be used rather than subjects of our own loving and healing touch. It takes a second look. Perhaps a third and fourth or more will be necessary before we get the hang of it, but a second one is required at the very least in order to see clearly. It means that we will need to be patient with ourselves, as well as others. It means that a process is in order. It means that the race is not always won by the swift.
My husband will be taking a second look at his cataract surgery. He will accept the fact that healing needs time and he needs healing. So time is his friend, not his enemy. He will believe that the regimen of drops is his second touch, the way by which he will see people and they will not look like trees walking.
My neighbor will be similarly blessed. The cast that binds his arm will remind him that God bonds with us in our pain. He will learn new methods of accomplishing what he loves, despite his advanced age. He will know that his infirmity is allowing the hale and hearty an opportunity to serve and give and to be grateful that they can.
Each and all will travel the same path, differently. Each and all will be uniquely but equally blessed on the way. Each and all will enter more deeply into the wonder of Lent and know the joy of life. And all will be well on the journey.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], Lead Chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, Religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.