My Naked Eyes

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)
I was six when I put on my first pair of glasses. My mother loves to tell the story of my reaction, how I immediately began pointing out details in the world around me that I apparently had not realized even existed. How long this had been going on is hard to say, but I do remember having a similar experience at 21, when I first wore contact lenses, and was in awe of the fact that I could look up with my eyes, and not have the world disappear into blurriness as it would when I looked over the top rim of my glasses.

Twenty-four hours ago, Dr. Howard Straub reminded me of these experiences as he told me what to expect when I went into the LASIK lab. Knowing how extreme my myopia was, he said, "Your world is about to change. For the first time since you were--what, five, six?--you'll be seeing it with your naked eyes. It'll be like that moment you first put on glasses and realized that trees have leaves." He then described the procedure to me, and minutes later, I was on my back, watching a light show, catching a whiff of corneal tissue being precisely burned away, and then it was done. My vision is not perfect--it will take my eyes about three months to fully heal and adjust--but this afternoon, when I go in for my 24 hour checkup, I'll symbolically drop my glasses in the donation bin at the clinic, so someone somewhere with eyes as bad as mine were, but lacking the insurance and income to pay for such powerful glasses, can see once more.

It occurred to me yesterday that, while I still have those glasses, I should try taking a picture partially through them, to have a record of what the world has looked like for me. Using my iPhone, I was partially successful. As you can see above, the clear world ends at the rim of the lens. What you can't see, because my phone's optics, even focused on the lens, are still far better than my eyes were, is how incredibly blurry the world was for me beyond that horizon. The contact lens correction for my right eye--the stronger one--was 8.50. Without glasses, I would not be able to see the largest letter on an eye chart. I was functionally blind.

Perhaps that is why stories of blind people making their way in the world have always appealed to me. I remember reading a children's novel, probably when I was in the fourth grade, about a boy losing his sight in a fireworks accident, then being introduced to a seeing-eye dog. Then there was the amazing life of Helen Keller. And, of course, Jesus healing the blind.

There are two stories of healing blind men that appeal to me. The first comes from John 9, in which Jesus heals a man born blind. A comedy of manners then ensues, meant to demonstrate how the truly blind are the Pharisees for not acknowledging that Jesus is the Messiah. The anti-Judaism in the text leaves me cold. I much prefer the story of Bartimaeus, quoted above, from the gospel after which I was named, Mark. I love how assertive the blind beggar is in his request, even as the crowd tries to get him to shut up, and how quickly they change their tune when Jesus says to bring the man to him. Jesus then asks a question that, while it may seem obvious, is really quite perceptive: "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man has not, after all, asked to be healed; he's asked for mercy, which could mean many other things. Finally, I love it that, when the healing takes place, Jesus refuses to take credit for it: "Your faith has made you well." All of this is such a contrast to John's ret-conning of the story, in which Jesus knows and proclaims himself Messiah, and welcomes the worship of the blind man, while casting aspersions on the Pharisees for not recognizing his Lordship. Mark's Jesus has not come to rule the world, but to show common people what power they already possess to make it better.

Let's be clear: my faith had nothing to do with my new eyes. I have modern medical technology to thank for that--and also a significant outlay of cash. The healing of Bartimaeus has more in common with what my cast-off glasses will do for some disadvantaged, functionally blind person in the Third World. I am fortunate to have a full-time job, plus a nice cushion of free-lance income, to pay for this luxury; and to live at a time when the technology exists to do this. For that matter, I'm fortunate to live in a time when technology exists to provide my eyes with any correction at all. The soft contact lenses I wore for the last 31 years didn't exist prior to 1971. I'm not sure how long eyeglasses that could correct severe myopia have been in existence, but I do remember how heavy and ugly the glasses I replaced with contacts in 1982 were.

So luck has played a large part in my ability to see at all, and this morning, I am filled with gratitude for it. I'm also in a slight bit of shock that I can type this blog, look up and see the details of the pictures on the walls, see the smile on Amy's face (and the feigned horror she expresses at my bloodshot, still-recovering-from-surgery eyes), all as clearly as I could with contact lenses, with nothing in front of my eyes. It's magical, miraculous, marvelous.

I'm feeling a powerful urge to get out and re-see all the wonders I've previously had mediated to me by lenses of glass and plastic. For now, though, it will suffice to just revel in what I can see here at home. As the song says,

I see trees of green, 
red roses too. 
I see them bloom, 
for me and you. 
And I think to myself,
what a wonderful world. 

I see skies of blue, 
And clouds of white. 
The bright blessed day, 
The dark sacred night. 
And I think to myself, 
What a wonderful world. 

The colors of the rainbow, 
So pretty in the sky. 
Are also on the faces, 
Of people going by, 
I see friends shaking hands. 
Saying, "How do you do?" 
They're really saying, 
"I love you". 

I hear babies cry, 
I watch them grow, 
They'll learn much more, 
Than I'll ever know. 
And I think to myself, 
What a wonderful world.


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