October 10, 2014

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Seeing beyond the crippling dimension of blindness

Cynthia DewesAs our population ages, we hear a lot about things like arthritis and Type 2 diabetes and other complaints of the elderly and infirm. This litany includes my favorite (not because I’m fond of it), macular degeneration.

I’m preoccupied with this disease because it afflicts me personally. After stabilizing an earlier bout with “wet” macular, I’ve now developed “dry” macular, which unfortunately is progressive and incurable.

While I’m plugging along, my friends support me. One gave me a book to read, titled Going Blind. You might think this wasn’t very tactful, but it turned out to be as helpful as my friend intended.

The book is a memoir written by Benedictine Sister Maria Faulkner about the impact of her father’s blindness on her family, and the broader dimensions of what blindness means. It describes how Sister Maria’s dad inherited a disease which blinded him by age 40.

Meanwhile, he married and began to raise a family of seven kids near Mandan, N.D. He kept a small market and truck garden in which his children helped out, barely making ends meet during the 1930s and 1940s.

Sister’s memories of her dad are not all complimentary. However, over time she’s come to understand what drove him.

He appeared to be in denial of his disability, never acknowledging that he couldn’t see and asking for no public or private aid—except to take his wife’s arm when they walked in public. In that time and that culture, he considered such an admission of weakness a sign of emasculation. It would mean he could not take care of his family.

Sister Maria notes that blindness has always implied a somewhat pejorative meaning in our culture. When someone goofs we holler, “Are you blind?” or, when they seems clueless we say, “Take off your blinders.” Even today, when disability is given more public respect, the downside of blindness remains in our language and probably our minds.

We point out judgmentally that someone has a “blind spot,” meaning they willfully or stupidly ignore what’s apparent to everyone else. Thus, the doting parent whose child can do no wrong, and if he or she’s in trouble at school it has to be the school’s fault.

Likewise, we may turn a “blind eye” to unpleasant facts or situations. Rather than deal with something uncomfortable, we just ignore it. Sometimes this behavior is based upon “blind faith,” which is a misplaced trust in someone or something. The result may be anything from battered spouses to holy wars.

Sometimes “blind prejudice” steers our conduct, which can be bad when it’s based upon slim or faulty evidence. Some white people may assume that most black young men are criminal, if not suspect. And some blacks may believe that all whites are out to get them some way or another.

Established populations may be prejudiced against immigrants of what they consider threatening ethnicities. They can be willfully narrow-minded. Sister Maria ponders all sides of blindness, both the bad and, surprisingly, the good.

Her interest is great because she and some of her siblings have inherited their father’s disease. But thankfully, she concludes that we also have the blindness that comes from being dazzled. Sunlight dazzles, but God dazzles us even more with brilliance and glory and joy.

Blindness should be seen as a mysterious gift given to us by a wise and loving God. In the words of the inspiring hymn “Amazing Grace,” “I was blind, but now I see.”

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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