I am concerned about my eyesight: glaucoma in both eyes and a macula tear in one. I’ve had the macula problem for about 15 years and it’s not getting worse, I think. Though I do well – all things considered – I find it hard to read in public like liturgies, etc.
With eye meds in tow and magnifying glasses and great lamps with magnification and beautifully lighted bulbs, I do remarkably well. I spend my days reading, writing, and researching – the ingredients of a journalist or writer’s success, and I might add, joy! Best of all, I can see in distance and in general so my driving has not been taken from me! I recently passed the driving test required by my community every four years after age 75.
So I read with excitement in The New York Times, the touching and arresting essay by Frank Bruni titled, “Losing My Eyesight Helped Me to See More Clearly.” Bruni awakened one morning to blurry vision which turned out to be a stroke which left his right eye almost entirely without vision and the possibility that his left eye would follow suit. The prognosis terrified Bruni, also a journalist and a professor at Duke University.
Bruni’s reflection is a great read for Lent. He narrates that while trying to go along life’s quotidian tasks like pouring wine for a guest and missing the glass, mistaking one key on his laptop for another and not catching it, all amount to a realization that he needed to ‘see’ another way. Rather than ask, “Why me?” he decided to ask, “Why not me?” That became, yes, let’s call it the right term: an insight! Bruni began to see the discrepancy between the “public gloss and private mess” so many people around him carried. He concluded that it’s usually a delusion that “you’re grinding away your days while people around you are gliding through theirs.” If we really tuned into what others are experiencing, we’d appreciate the single mom for all her challenges and forgive her lapses of memory or impatience on the job. We’d tease out the story inside someone we know casually as Bruni did from an acquaintance at his workout place. It appears he knew the man for some time but not until now did he know that the man’s prosthetic legs are the result of a plane crash in which he was the pilot. His only child, an eight-year-old son, was killed in that crash. Bruni concludes that, “In so much of what I noticed and read, I found reminders – parables – of the secrets that people carry, of the suffering that they bury.”
In each of Bruni’s examples, the persons he formerly did not see but subsequently came to know, became examples of courage for his own adjustment to a demanding challenge and included “following up on comments that might have whizzed by me and lingered in conversational spaces that I would have once hurried past or detoured to avoid.” He sought out people at parties he knew had physical burdens; wrote notes to others he had met while researching for stories. He said, tersely, “The struggles and emotions of people around me came into sharper focus.”
And, all the while he was losing his eyesight.
Our journey through Lent can nourish a similar experience. This is a good time to ask God to help us see the cavernous wells of loneliness some people live in or where grief walks with others like an inseparable shadow.
In your prayer:
Ask the Jesus of Accompaniment to help you see your own ‘blind spots’ that keep you from seeing the burdens others carry.
Keep your eyes open. Look for the magnitude of generosity you can discover in others whose exteriors hide their secret suffering. Befriend them. Accompany them. They will teach you a lot.
The story of Bartimeus, the blind beggar whom Jesus cured, has much to reflect on. Read John’s version: Jn 9:1-40. I think it has more of a story than what is told by the other evangelists. It celebrates the importance of seeing through faith. I love the powerful line attributed to the beggar when he said: “I know this much. I was blind before; now I can see.” Sit with this story and pray to see anew.
I pray for all of you during this Lent. I know my anonymous angels are there as well. And it gives me great joy.