A Local Sighting, Part One

 

You were born the same year as Jesus. Thirty-one years later you are a beggar, a blind beggar at the corner of Market St. and Way St.

When you were born cataracts covered your little dark eyes. No one knew how to remove them. No one dared. “God has ordained this”, the neighbors whispered.

The neural construction of your visual cortex at the back of your brain did not develop.  You received no visual inputs. You could not see your mother’s face during the first nine months of your life. Photons came and went unnoticed. You would not see “the heavens declare the glory of God”.

By twenty-six weeks you could perceive sound within your mother’s womb. By thirty weeks you could respond to the sound of tambourines at a wedding. While neurons were still migrating to their assigned location you could differentiate sounds. You began to learn through sound and touch.

After you were born, in the absence of visual stimulation, your brain reorganized the almost one-quarter of your brain devoted to visual image processing toward high-level cognitive functions:  language processing, memory function and auditory abilities greater than those of sighted persons. You were born blind but now your hearing is acute, able to hear the slightest echo off a nearby object.

You heard feet shuffling by. You heard whispering and gossip. You heard people talking about a man called Jesus who does great wonders in the name of God and yet the Judeans wanted to stone him. You wondered what sight would be. You had felt your mother’s face and a donkey’s snout. Texture and sound. His mother’s voice, a donkey’s bray and his father’s exhausted return home at the end of the day.

On the Sabbath you sing the words of a Psalm:

“Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face.”

The synagogue leader asks you, one of ten men required for public worship, to hold the scrolls open, one for the law and one for the prophets, as he reads them to the gathered.

You hear the prophet Isaiah read:

“In the time of my favor I will answer you,     and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you     to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land     and to reassign its desolate inheritances,  to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’     and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!

Then the scrolls are closed. There is prayer and then synagogue leader speaks. “The time of the Messiah’s appearance must be very near. When he comes he will throw off the shackles these Roman tyrants have placed on us and set his people free. Then, and only then, can we be a light to the Gentiles.” One of the men bestows a blessing on the gathered and they leave.

At festival time, as you travel along the road to Jerusalem, you are told about the Roman crucifixions. But the telling is nothing compared to the sounds you hear. Women are wailing, whips crack and anguished voices cry out for mercy. The repetitious hammering brings jolting screams and then moans and then almost utter silence as you walk past cross after cross. Your mother is crying inside her shawl and your father says “We must take comfort in the hope of the Messiah”.

 

One day the weight of a drachma hits the bottom of your cup. You are about to say “thank you” when you smell fish and hear a brusque Galilean accent.

“Teacher, whose sin was it that caused this man to be born blind? Did he sin, or did his parents?

The sounds of crucifixion come rushing back. You say to yourself, “They are talking about me and my family. What do they see that I don’t? And, who is this Teacher?”

“He didn’t sin, “replied another Galilean voice, “nor did his parents. It happened so that God’s works could be seen in him. We must work the works of the one who sent me as long as it’s still daytime. The night is coming, and nobody can work then! As long as I am in the world, I’m the light of the world.”

You tell yourself, “Night is when our family sleeps.” You scrunch up against the wall, hoping all this talk will pass you by.

But then someone spits. You hear the crowd murmur. Suddenly you realize that someone is touching your eyes and you put your hand up feel. There is a hand applying wet dirt to your eyes.

“Off you go”, says the Galilean. “I am sending you to wash in the pool of Siloam.”

You struggle to your feet. You reach for your walking stick and your cup. Your eyes, and now your head, feel weird.  “This is like a dream. Could this be night? Could I be sleeping?”, you ask yourself.

Your mother grabs your arm and tells you that Jesus has done this. Almost running she pulls you toward the pool of Siloam. You stumble along wondering what is going on in your head. You don’t understand that resources are being reallocated from sound processing to sight processing.

You stop. Your mother, out of breath, tells you to wash your face. You feel for the water and begin to splash your face. You splash more and more water on your face. Each time you do there is a change: as mud comes off it is replaced by a glow and then by a brightness that hurts your eyes. The glare of the sun’s reflection in the pool blinds you for a moment but you welcome it. You turn toward your mother’s voice and then you trace her wide-eyed smile for the first time with your eyes. You tell her that you can see her. She screams with delight. “We must go back,” she says. And so, you return to the corner of Market St. and Way St. where your neighbors are waiting.

 

To be continued…

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