I was home alone, my wife out on a walk with the dogs at the park.
When suddenly, I could not see.
Now, I wasn’t stricken blind like Paul. I could see…sort of. But my eyesight was suddenly obscured with blind spots and auras. The world looked like a broken mirror. As I struggled to read WebMD (obviously, the first and most reliable course of action in any medical emergency), I realized just how severe the problem was. I could not make out more than fragments of words and I was beginning to be overtaken by a headache.
I called my brother, a nurse, who told me that I should immediately call 911. Now, I’ve never called 911 for myself, so this understandably made me more panicked.
The afternoon was filled with my first ambulance ride, my first CT scan, and the first time I have ever been scared that I was having a stroke. The episode lasted a couple of hours and then went away, as inexplicably as it had arrived.
The doctor had no answer, other than that I did not have a stroke. I chalk it up to stress, a “quasi-stroke.” In talking with others, I learned that I’m not the first person to experience something like this.
While being transported by ambulance and laying in my first ER bed, and contemplating the possibility that I might be having a catastrophic event happening to me, I thought about these few things: about life, about suffering and about what I think of God.
“I Can’t Be a Blind Art Teacher”
It is amazing how little we think of our bodies, until they decide to malfunction. On the ambulance ride, I thought about all the things I would not be able to do if this episode proved to be permanent. Among all the things I feared, my livelihood was near the top of the list. How could I go on teaching if my eyesight suddenly deteriorated so severely?
It strikes me how careful we are in our culture. We want to protect ourselves from so many things. We want insulation and safety (or at least the illusion of safety). I think we are in an odd place where we are afraid of a lot of things we do not need to be afraid of. But at the same time, our lives are more fragile and precarious than we want to think. No one honestly believes that one day they’ll wake up and have a heart attack, or a sudden case of partial blindness.
What Now, God?
I had a close call, but ultimately what happened was just an anomaly. It scared me, but did not scar me.
But what if it had not just been a close call, but a real, life-changing event? What if God suddenly struck me blind? I have read the Bible over and over. I have read all the thick books with detailed theological explanation of why we suffer. I have read the book of Job.
But would I really be able to forgive God and move on if He suddenly took something truly precious away from me?
In my thirty years, I have struggled, but I have not experienced truly profound, life-changing loss. But eventually, I will. I will lose some of my faculties. Or I will lose someone very close to me. Something that I hold dear will be taken.
And in some way, that really is the biggest theme of life, isn’t it? Learning to let go of things. Eventually, life becomes kind of like a garage sale, and our lives are parceled out, bit by bit. How we learn to deal with those losses gracefully, be they temporary or permanent, is such a monumental test or testament to our faith and character.
Suffering, Not Safety Adds Empathy
For a long time, I did not want to get older. In my mid-twenties, I wished I could just stay. Now that I am thirty, I actually wish I would start getting a little bit of gray hair, so people would know I have some modicum of life experience. (Because that’s what people think of men with a bit of gray hair.)
But in reality, it is not our hair or wrinkles, or our resumes, Instagram feeds, or world travels that connect us to people with true empathy. It is how we have suffered that offers the strongest, most instant bond between two people. It is that bond that says “I get it,” “I know what you are going through,” “I am here for you.”
And so while suffering always feels like a loss, perhaps if we are willing to look, we can see what suffering adds to us.
I know, I’m still just a know-nothing thirty-year-old who’s barely been touched by suffering. I still have a long way to go. So help me out. Tell me what suffering has added to your life. How has it made you the person you are today?