April 8, 2017

Hills and Valleys at 20/20

The charge nurse leads me to a waiting area where I will wait for my friend undergoing eye surgery. The space is crowded. I scan the room and carefully select my seat: two chairs down from an African-American gentleman who is not reading the health magazines scattered on the tables around us. He sits calmly holding a cane, dark glasses on. He is blind. Is he asleep?

I observe him, place my purse on the floor, and pull out a book to read. I turn the pages of the and throw up a prayer: “God, what am I learning today?”

I shake Edwin’s hand and he asks, “May I have a prayer?”

“What are you reading? If you don’t mind me asking.” I hear a soft voice and glance up to see the gentleman two chairs away. I share the title of the book and he faces me. Even at distance, I can see my reflection on his dark glasses. “Sounds interesting. Are you a teacher? How did you find this book?”

I smile and confess that all similar books I usually end up with are on loan from my father’s library; and I sometimes “forget” to return them. My new friend, Edwin, smiles and nods. He is familiar with this “borrowing transaction,” having four grown children and seven grandchildren. Today his youngest daughter is undergoing eye surgery, and his eldest son will pick them up later. He is pleasant company.

Edwin extends a small booklet to me, a small album. He has memorized each picture, telling me the names of everyone; sharing something memorable about that moment frozen in time. What a lovely family. I learn that he has been blind for eight years, after an auto accident in which his wife of 51 years passed. “Now, that was darkness,” he says. I listen to his stories of recovery, journey, faith.

Edwin tells me there are advantages to being blind: the hills and valleys of life, those moments where you sometimes feel alone and the echo of calling out for divine help is all that reminds you that moving forward is the only way to go. He tells me those first steps in the valley are the most frightening. “There is no map,” he says. “I cannot physically see what’s in front of me anymore. I have to simply lift my eyes and feel God’s presence. So I walk forward in faith.”

In faith.

“I believe that is the real testament of vision,” he says. “When the tough times are over, clarity returns. Hindsight is 20/20. We can appreciate lessons learned, pain overcome, blessings, and joy. But have you ever considered, my friend, that foresight can be 20/20 as well? That while we traverse dangerous terrain, faith can give us 20/20 vision? The necessary humility to know we are fragile but not alone invites God to join us in the journey, and this makes our decisions better, clarity amidst darkness.” He pauses.

“When I stand on that mountain, I know I didn’t get there alone and I sing His praises. I hope we get there with 20/20 vision, so we don’t miss a single blessing granted as we traverse the valley.”

As we sit in silence, both of us lost in thought, the charge nurse advises me that my friend is in recovery. I shake Edwin’s hand and he asks: “May I have a prayer?” I sit next to him and hear a stranger pray for me, for my journeys through hills and valleys. I am honored.

“Professor, sorry I interrupted your learning time,” he says. I smile and glance up at the heavens, past the roof above our heads. No interruption! This is what I prayed for! I just didn’t know the lesson plan had already been created for me before I reached the destination: 20/20.

Dixil Rodríguez is a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain. She lives in Texas.