How Judaism is Helping Me Through a Medical Scare
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha'olam, pokei'ach ivri'im
Blessed are you, Adonai, Sovereign of the universe, who opens the eyes of the blind.
I chant this prayer every time I say the morning blessings. It is not as often as I'd like, but at least every Saturday morning, for Shabbat, I chant it. It's a sacred moment - or at least, it would be, if I thought about it. I believe that moments are not inherently sacred or holy. They become so with our thought, our mindfulness and intentionality.
Last week, as I stood under roof of the sukkah, wrapped in my prayer shawl, a warm sweater, and the holiness of that moment, my voice rose with those other voices of this community, praising God for the miracles of the day.
Praising God for opening the eyes of the blind.
That's when it hit me, again, how I've struggled to see my computer screen, and the road just beyond the hood of my car, and the last bit of dried-up milk at the bottom of the glass that my son has left on the counter. Those struggles have worsened, steadily, amd now somewhat exponentially, until today, this moment as I sing out my praise of God for the miracle of sight - and my vision is a cubist nightmare, a blurred and darkened view of the world around me. Tough to see a miracle right now.
That morning, I chanted those words, that day they became holy and that moment shifted into rare and exquisite sacredness. And I wept.
I'm terrified that I am going blind.
My condition is, my doctors assure me, treatable - not cureable, but treatable. They may be able to arrest its progression, or at least slow the pace of it. I may not, in fact, be going blind. But tell that to my fear.
I know, I know - fear is a liar. But during Sukkot, the season of joy, I stood under a very tenuous, very temporary shelter that was draped in God's bounty, filled to its very edges with prayer and hope and gratitude, and I sang and prayed and tried so desperately to lose myself in my prayer - or maybe to find myself there, in God and benediction and something holy and pure, something transcendent and free of the fear that coiled around me, that bound me and tethered me to its dank lies and dirty promises. I tried so hard to rise with my prayers.
I came to chant from Torah, and really, it was not an incredibly inspiring passage. But the blessing of Torah is that we are given the whole of it, not just the pretty passages and happy stories, because it is ours to struggle with and dance with and learn from, to teach and carry and study and live. I stood at the makeshift bimah and I bent to read - and I stumbled and faltered, because although my eyes were open, I could not see.
The service leader was kind. Chanting Torah is difficult under the best of circumstances, he explained, but I was laboring under heavy eye problems for which I would be operated on later this week. I walked back to my seat, where I proceeded to break down.
A friend came to sit next to me, putting her arm around me to offer strength and comfort. "What do you need?" she asked, and she would not accept stiffening shoulders or my mumbled answer of, "Nothing. I'm fine." And she was the first in a parade of others. Some I had known for years, those casual, intimate acquaintances who fill our lives with pleasantries and conversation and shared experience. There were a few I'd never seen before, though their concern was no less sincere. Included in that mix were a few real friends, people who are part of the regular ebb and flow of my life, whose presence is a steady light.
What do you need? What can we do? And then: Never mind; I'll come over. I'll drive you. We'll bring you...
There, in the midst of my fear and pain, draped in my pride - a miracle.
My prayer, my blindness: It had nothing to do with sight. It had nothing to do with vision, with rods and cones and color and light. There is holiness in giving, in caring for, in being present for another, a binding of joy and sorrow.
I have no idea what will happen with my eyes. I am still terrified that I will go blind, that something will go wrong with this (fairly routine) operation, that I will not be able to drive or read or see the words of Torah, so carefully and lovingly drawn on a parchment scroll.
But I will not be blind. How could I be, when I stand with my community, that holy and sacred bunch, under the shelter of heaven, to find strength and compassion and love.
Blessed are you, God, who opens the eyes of the blind.