In high school and college, we would often have non-philosophical debates posing dumb questions and deciding what we would want or what we would do.
Would you rather… is how the question would start.
Would you rather have 10 fingers and 8 toes or 8 fingers and 10 toes?
Would you rather be rich or never have to buy anything?
Would you rather be sightless or without hearing?
What would you rather have? No eyes or no ears?
This question was never one I could answer- because I cannot understand what life would be like without my ability to hear grass grow or see with my perfect vision eyes. I cannot fathom what the world would sound like if it were eternally silent or look like if it were constantly one shade of nothing.
Being without sight or hearing is not a question I have thought about for a very long time. As a parent maybe being without hearing might not sound so bad- because the incessant whines would be mute. Or if I were without sight, the den would never be a wreck. The toys would always be put away- because I would know no other.
But, in reality, eyes and ears are a vital part of my world. I need to see. I need to hear.
Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs— I need my eyes and ears.
But, do I really?
This question has been weighing on my heart the past several weeks. Is sight really necessary?
And the answer I have come to is that — no. No, sight is not necessary.
Sight is not necessary to play the piano.
Sight is not necessary to dance.
Sight is not necessary to learn or to even read.
Sight is not necessary to see love.
I have become reliant on my eyes, as we all have. The reality is that our eyes are a luxury. A gift from God. But, God gives us encumbrances, too. Challenges for us to learn from. To teach with. We have crosses to bear and burdens we hide amongst our empty pockets.
For the past few weeks I have watched my son and seen his eyes. Seen how beautiful his wide stark blue eyes are. And I have wondered…
Can he see me?
Little things start to snowball into bigger things. These tiny nuances that were once cute, now make me think…
Can he see anything?
I did not think anything about these little things until I mentioned to Husband, just in passing, how his doctor’s appointment went weeks ago. He started to nonchalantly ask me questions, wanting to not arise my concern.
It took about three questions before I realized what he was getting at. I called a friend who can keep things close to the vest and asked her what we should do. As a specialist of the eyes, she immediately calmed what felt like first-time-mom nerves.
The pit in my stomach grew. What would we do if this son we had created lacked the precious gift of sight?
Was it something I did as I knitted him in my womb? Is this a punishment for something I should have done? Is it because I am selfish and did not want to answer the question of no eyes or no ears?
Was this my fault?
After weeks of fear, Husband and I found solace in research of how to raise a child with no sight. We found the best boarding schools for sightless children. Husband always knew that a visionless child was still a child of God and that this child could play the piano with his father. This child could go fishing with his father. This child could do so many things.
It never dawned on me to cry. It never crossed my mind to feel sorry for him, so I stopped beating myself up. This is my son. MY child. And my children are awe-inspiring.
My children are prayed for to be assets of society.
My child will do great things in this world. Just because he cannot see does not mean he cannot find friends and see a light in the darkness. Maybe the darkness will give him a clearer sense of the world, bring him closer to God, and hear things more clearly.
My son is many things.
My son is amazing.
And he is blind.
I wrote this about a month ago, helping to prepare myself for the life ahead. I find calmness and serenity in the words I write.
At his two month check-up, I received the standard clipboard with boxes to check as to his accomplishments. The ladies at the front desk allude to the sheets being required by the government but are not taken too seriously. As I checked and did not check boxes, Fuzzy screamed. This is SOP for him. When I need him to sleep, say at nighttime, he is awake. When I need him to be calm, say at the doctor’s office, he is screaming. The life of baby seems much more frustrating to the baby than to the adult caring for him.
Going through our appointment and reviewing shots, the doctor glances at the sheet and says, “He does not track?”
Track. A word I have used more times in the past six weeks than I have probably used in my entire life.
“Sure he does? I think so. To be honest, I have not noticed one way or the other.”
Fuzzy screams. I pick him up and hold him close to me as I move his head around trying to get him to look at me. A light flicks at the realization that this is common— his not-tracking.
“Yeah, he’s tracking. See?” I say, and then follow it up with, “Well, he’s just too upset right now to track. But, he tracks.”
I knew I was lying but tried not to think much of it. Just because he cannot track does not make him dumb. He has bright parents. He will be smart.
Blindness never crossed my mind.
At the realization of blindness, I turned to where I always turn. I got down on my knees, held one hand in the other to pray. As I sat there, my head was silent and my heart was quiet. Words could not connect.
What do I pray for?
Do I pray for God’s will? Do I pray for sight? Do I pray for strength? Do I pray for blindness in the hopes that it is merely blindness and not something so much worse?
Registering that I am the daughter and sister of two salesmen and that I, myself, am an eternal salesman, what do I want? Is it selfish to ask God for something you want for yourself? Or for your children? By acknowledging what I want- is my subconscious churning away on how to manipulate the situation in my favor? Could I sell God on giving me what I seek?
But you can’t manipulate God. And you can’t sell him on anything. He has a plan and it is mightier than mine. With God, there is no subconscious. There are no secrets.
I kneeled in silence. Instead of lifting words to the Mightier, I flipped a switch in my heart. I opened it. I opened it to Him. It felt like I was opening it for the first time. Staring at my son, I wondered if he could see me.
I can see enough for the both of us. As he continued to cry incessantly, I wondered if he was crying because he was in darkness. Was he crying because he was lonely? I held him more.
I kissed him more.
I whispered softly in his ear, “I don’t know if you can see me, but I can see you. And I love you. You don’t need eyes to know that.”
He would cry in the night and I would place my hand on his chest. His little fingers found mine and he would tightly grasp them. My other hand would find his face in the darkness, cup his cheek, and it would soothe him. In these moments, in the darkness, I flipped that same switch- opening my heart and acknowledging my Higher Power. It was as if to say, “God, I don’t know what to pray for. But, I am here and I am yours.”
Prayers are just questions and statements. And for the first time, I was both speechless and without a question to ask.
It was in these moments, in the dark, that confirmed my suspicions: my son is blind.
Now, to know me is to know an open book. If it is in my mind, it is out of my mouth. If it is in my heart, it will be your knowledge. But this was different. This was not personal. This was my child. And I had to wrangle my head around blindness. My husband and I had to accept this and know it as fact before we were ready to share it— with anyone, family being no exception.
My parents started to gather their suspicions. In hindsight, they were careful not to ask directly, but to notice things and question around the wanted knowledge. When the eye specialist could see us at the last minute and I needed a sitter for Bennie, those suspicions were confirmed when they asked if we were going to see our pediatrician and I would not lie.
A weight lifted off my shoulders admitting this fear we had and finally acknowledging that we are not alone in this.
We are never alone.
In the end, it was too soon to tell. The specialist saw what we saw (or lack thereof), but said we would need to wait to know something for certain. All we could do was watch.
Again, I closed my eyes and opened my heart, uncertain of what to say. Uncertain of what to want. Uncertain of everything. Positive that I am constantly selling someone something, whether it was a client on insurance, a child on a bath or a husband on supper- this mother is in sales. Positive that I was fearful to pray for the wrong thing- choose the wrong path.
In the past several months, inconsequential things have been happening. Things that were never even worth mentioning, but things that— in hindsight— make me wonder if they were preparing me for my uncertain future.
My father was asked to be on the board of directors of the eye center at the medical college.
Fuzzy’s godfather is a third generation eye doctor.
A friend asked me to help her write a grant for a piece of equipment for the optometry school.
Husband's lifelong friend from Small-town relocated to Hometown with his wife, the eye specialist.
Husband's lifelong friend from Small-town relocated to Hometown with his wife, the eye specialist.
It seemed like all these things were lining up in my life to give me a pool of resources. A place to seek guidance. It was as if God knew something was coming and was helping me to prepare for it. It was if He knew I would know what was in my heart before I would know it was there.
It was if he was listening to the silence.
It was if he was listening to the silence before it existed.
I mentioned that his godfather is an eye doctor. He is also one of my oldest friends and a very devout Catholic. Even he did not know what we were facing. I was not ready to pull the trigger until I knew for certain.
But nothing in life is certain.
The Thursday before his Baptism, I went to the church to fill out the necessary paperwork to make him a child of God. Even in the church, there are forms to fill out. The secretary, an ancient African American woman named Helen has sat behind the desk since I returned to The Church. She has prepared the paperwork and certificate for all three of my children.
This Thursday I went into the church, holding my baby and Miss Helen stood up to see the newest addition. She said, “Look at that baby! He can see!” I found her statement odd. She knew not where we were, but that there was a baby in my arms waiting to be Catholic.
I looked down at my son as Helen shook her scarf and said again, “Look at the baby… he… can … see?” He stared blindly at nothing. He did not blink at the enticement. I knew. She said it a third time and smiled at me- secretly knowing what I knew. I smiled back and looked down at those stark blue eyes.
During Mass, I watched my brother hold my son with his one good arm. I thought about when he had his stroke and how easy it was to pray for him. To ask God for strength for him. To pray for my niece and nephew and ask God to let them know how much they are loved. For his wife, to please give her one more ounce… and then one more. Those things were easy. Why were the words suddenly so hard to find?
After his Baptism, we all leaned in and shared kisses and smiles. My dad whispered into my ear, “Put some Holy Water on his eyes.”
I looked at the ancient font that blessed thousands of babies before my three, blessed my great-grandparents, blessed babies that lived, babies that died, babies that grew to adults, babies that became anything from everything.
He made the cripple walk.
He made the blind see.
Holy Water found its way to my tepid right hand and as his godfather held him, I drizzled a few drops of water on his eyes. Making the sign of the cross between his eyes, I closed mine and thanked God for these people in my life.
Whatever happens- it will happen. Peace settled in as we wrapped up and headed back to the house to celebrate the newest Christian with family and the closest of friends.
In the stillness of his room, I held him so close and kissed the Holy Water off the bridge of his nose. I smelled the oil of the catechumens on his little head as I laid him down to change him out of his white gown. His eyes wandered aimlessly and found mine.
His eyes found my eyes.
And they locked in on me as I moved about the room.
Thinking that this must be a coincidence, I kept it to myself as we observed this momentous occasion of our son over fried chicken with macaroni and cheese. It stayed my secret for several days.
As those days turned into a week and that week started rubbing against a second week, his eyes started to seem less stark blue and more of a blue like the sky. He seemed to blink more. he started to follow me around the room and cry when I was not in sight. He would cry out for his father and stop when he came in the room.
He started staring at the blades of the ceiling fan.
Could he see before? Can he see now? Will he be blind? Will he have vision like mine? Will he need glasses for the rest of his life? Will he? Will he? Will he?
Will he be so many things in this life? Yes.
Will he love and be loved? Yes.
Will he live? Yes.
Are there things worse than being blind? Yes.
Is this life splendid, extraordinary, humbling and constantly evolving? Yes.
Am I thankful, forever thankful for these days we get to string together? Yes.
I watch him gaze at that ceiling fan as he drifts off to sleep. I watch him watch life swirl around him. I open my heart in thanks and I hold back tears of gratitude for this boy, my son.