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.
From Nisim b'chol yom, for daily miracles
The morning liturgy
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.
At least, it would be if I thought about it. I think moments are not inherently sacred or holy. They become so, with our thought, our mindfulness and intentionality.
Today, as I stood under the rickety, shivering roof of the Sukkah, where pale morning sky peeked through a roof of haphazardly-laid dried corn stalks, and the light wind presaged the certainty of autumn-to-come (though the valiant sun, not-quite blazing, but shining brightly nonetheless, did a tango with the still-chill air before it started to warm) -- today, wrapped in my tallit and a soft sweater and the holiness of that moment, my voice rose with those other voices of this lovely 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, after all those other agains, when 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 again (for a whole different tirade of "agains"). More, for the struggle to see the breathtaking beauty of the words of Torah as I lean down to chant their ancient melody. They've worsened, those struggles, steadily, 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 about now.
So this morning, I chanted those words, where I so often sing them rather than pray them, and today they became holy and that moment shifted into rare and exquisite sacredness. And I wept.
I'm terrified that I am going blind.
Before I continue, let me say: my condition is, so 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. Tell that to my fear.
I know, I know-- fear is a liar, and this is Sukkot, the season of joy. So I stood under the shelter of this very tenuous, very temporary shelter that was draped in God's bounty, that was 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, and God and benediction and something holy and pure, something transcendent and free of the fear that lay 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.
And when I came to chant from Torah-- and really, not an incredibly inspiring passage, from a particularly troubling parasha, but it is Torah, and the blessing of it is that we are given the whole of the Torah, 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-- so I stood at the makeshift bima and I bent to read those silly words, about bullocks and rams and offerings for drink and meals and sin-- 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 (considering there are no vowels or punctuation), he explained, but I was laboring under some heavy duty 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 woman, a friend, came to sit next to me. She put her arm around me, to offer strength and comfort. "What do you need?" she said, and would not accept stiffening shoulders or my mumbled answer of "Nothing. I'm fine." She was merely 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 jumbled mix were a few real friends, people who were part of the regular ebb and flow of my life, whose presence was a steady and shimmering 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...
My skin fairly crawled. I am the Fixer of Broken things, I wanted to cry out. I do not get Fixed. I do not get taken care of. I am not fixable, I wanted to whisper. I cannot afford to need.
And 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. There is also a sacredness in accepting that care. Community is about connection, a give and take of love and experience, 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 stare in wonder at the color of the sky just as the sun kisses the horizon. Soon, and forever. I am an awfulizer of the first order. My fear is a liar that tells me I will no longer see.
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...