I can hardly remember the first two surgeries. I was only six when my retina detached. The pictures show a sweaty but smiling kid in an eyepatch, buried in a hospital bed beneath stuffed animals. Unfortunately it was caught too late and I lost all vision in my right eye.
It was four years later when the same thing happened to my other eye. The memories are more vivid. After both of two more surgeries, everything was a blur of light and I had to wear that same eyepatch for weeks, this time with the other eye already out of commission. Basic tasks like bathing, eating, reading, even getting around the house I could no longer do alone. As my sight gradually returned, the care of parents and friends eased the fear that it might not.
But that fear still finds me. My eyesight is stable, so I don’t even think about most of the time, but on my darkest days, I fall on the possibility of loss and dependence. That the skills and activities I spend my days invested in will be stolen. That my son’s hand that now grabs onto my two fingers in parking lots may one day have to lead me. That if I go blind I won’t have the strength to resist bitterness. That I will become a burden.
Sometimes my mind ventures here when the Scriptures speak of sight and blindness. In the gospels, blindness is often overcome as a sign of the coming kingdom. Something slightly more complex seems to be happening on the road to Damascus. While Jesus is usually restoring sight, this time, he first takes it away: "Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.” The Lord simply allowed Saul to experience the physical reflection of his spiritual blindness. In the dark, the heart of this pious Pharisee may have prayed with the psalmist:
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
Saul was supposedly certain and secure, healthy and self-sufficient, even right and righteous. Now he is suddenly powerless and dependent on his enemies—the very people he terrorized and killed. In this great risk, Saul discovers restoration. Ananias calls him “brother" and gives him sight. We are blind without the body, the brother- and sister-hood of believers—blind to our true weaknesses and failures, to the ways we harm others, and even to our gifts. All our vision—our memory and hope—is held safely in the care of the community of Christ. Saul also shows us that the boundaries of this community are clearly not up to us. Our stories and fates are shared even with those we are tempted to hate.
Christ calls us out of the isolation of independence and into a network of need. We are all always already needy. Sometimes we are simply too blind and stubborn to admit it. Even Peter, in his own commissioning in the gospel of John, is told he too will be led by the hand: "when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” It seems like blind helplessness at first, but it is freedom for those who will be taken by the hand. If we will, our fear and fragility can be transformed (albeit tenderly and slowly) into hope, as expressed by singer-songwriter The White Buffalo:
If I lost my eyes
Would you stay with me
Would you take me by the hand
Tell me what you see
Fill my head with colors for my dreams
If I lost my eyes
If I lost my eyes