One of the things I keep coming back to as I read through the miracle stories of Jesus is how little we know beyond the moment of healing. We rarely know names or back stories. We are not told what things were like a week, or a year, or a lifetime later. What we get is, “I once was blind, but now I see,” yet that is not a full account. Life, and healing, it seems, are far more complicated. Listen to Mark’s telling of Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus.
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)
Enough about Bartimaeus. I want to talk about me.
Last Thursday was the second of my cataract surgeries. I thought I knew the drill since I had done it the week before, but I was wrong. The second week, though predictable in procedure, was more difficult in recovery. More uncomfortable. And, since they had to put me all the way under with the anesthesia, a little harder to shake since I had two full does within a week of each other. I have had a harder time feeling like myself and it caught me by surprise. I expected to breeze through, as I had done the week before. When I said something to the recovery nurse, she answered, “That’s the way it is for almost everyone.”
“Now you tell me,” I thought to myself. I still wonder why no one thought to tell me ahead of time.
Though everything I said about seeing new details is true—the leaves in the trees and the colors—It turns out that healing, at least when it comes to cataracts, is not that simple. I’m sure (I hope . . .) I am in a transitional stage, much like the blind man from last week (“I see people walking around like trees”), but I don’t know for sure. I think that is why Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus catches my eye: your faith has made you well.
Because of the surgery my vision has been reversed. I went from being severely nearsighted and unable to see much of anything faraway to being able to see faraway but not able to see much of anything close up without reading glasses. My eyes, at least for the short term, are much more light sensitive, so I have to wear sunglasses—not my usual practice, which means I spend my time trying to keep up with two pairs of spectacles, swapping them back and forth. I can tell the cataracts are gone. My vision has improved, and the process of healing is, as I said at first, complicated.
What the surgery did was change the rules. I once had cataracts, but now I don’t. That’s huge. I am grateful to see the tree tops, to stare at the full moon without all sorts of shadows and rings. And I knew how to live by the old rules. I had learned how to fly with those broken wings, if you will. Now, in one sense, it feels as though they are broken in all new places. I am struggling with the disorientation my healing has wrought.
I am shaking my head as I re-read that last sentence. Let me try again.
I was frustrated as hell with looking through waterfalls. I didn’t think twice about saying yes to the surgery. I cried out like the blind men, “Have mercy on me, Doc.” Now I see that for my faith to make me well I must choose to embrace my new reality, to walk the new road that has come into view—a road not (yet) traveled. A road I do not know. Let me change metaphors: for my faith to make me well, I must choose to rearrange the furniture of my life so I no longer know my way around in the dark.
Or the light, for that matter.
I am learning that I am at the beginning of a process. The surgery is over; the healing is not. What will be is not here yet. For now, I can’t pick up anything over ten pounds. I can’t pick up the pups when I come into the house. The dogs do not understand my break with daily tradition. I can’t garden. I can’t is an operative phrase. I have to be mindful of how I pack my bags at the grocery store. I have to remember to put in drops three times a day. I have to juggle my readers and my shades. I also have to wait to see how well I will be able to see.
My current frustration is not the final word, but it is the word for now. I must wait to learn not only how to play by the new rules, but also what those rules will be. Healing, for me, is not an overnight sensation, nor an immediate solution. It is a profound change. A new start. A reorientation. Dare I say it? A new way of seeing.
I remember the old way of seeing. That is what sent me to the doctor, asking for help. And he helped, only to have me open my eyes and spend at least part of the time wishing for the eyes I had learned to live with.
In Stages of Faith, James Fowler talks about conversion as taking in new information, circling to figure out what it means, and then charting a new path. That’s me: I’m circling. I love that I can see the leaves in the top of tree on the corner of the Green from my window seat in the coffee shop even as I struggle to see the words on the page without reaching for my glasses. Both things are new. For now, I am stumbling along in the light, trying to figure out what life looks like from here.
“Your faith has made you well.” My experience over the last couple of weeks makes me wonder about the verb tense in the translation. Perhaps we do better to read, “Your faith will make you well.” After this moment of change, of transformation, of conversion, the healing will happen if you trust the process and hang in there.
It took me eight years to feel like I had learned to live through and with (and several other prepositions) my depression. Ginger’s faith had probably more to do with my feeling well than mine, quite frankly. I have a dear friend who celebrated twenty-two years of sobriety about a month ago. And it took him twenty-two years to get to that day. His faith has made him well, and continues to do so on into year twenty-three.
That’s what I can see from here.