Someone once asked me what it was like to be blind. I remember thinking that it was a rather strange question for a fully grown, seemingly intelligent adult to be asking. All I could say was, “I have no idea how to answer that, because I’ve never been anything else.”
I learned at a very early age to see my blindness not as an obstacle or barrier between me and the world around me, but as a challenge to be overcome. My parents did not allow anyone or anything to come between me and what I wanted to do. I learned how to ride a horse when I was seven. I learned how to snow ski when I was barely 10.
In an effort to keep me from falling into the trap too many disabled people are drawn into, my parents fought to allow me to be one of the first students to leave the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind as soon as possible and go to a regular public school. I learned how to evade and ignore cruelty. I learned that fear manifests itself in some very nasty ways. Most of all, however, I learned that pain can teach the most unforgettable lessons.
As I grew older, I began searching for the usual answers humans seem to need in order to find a reason for their existence. Like almost everyone else, my first place to look was a church. After all, a church is supposed to provide us with a sense of safety and help us find the answers we seek. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to realize that not all churches are created equal, so to speak.
I was welcomed more warmly at some churches than at others. My questions were sometimes ignored, answered by little more than a verse from the Bible, or not answered at all by several priests, ministers, and other worship leaders. In one case, I was actually told that to question the word of god was considered an act of faithlessness and that I should pray for forgiveness and learn to accept his word as my law. Naturally, that didn’t happen.
The last time I went to church before I finally made my way to the UU church as more than a guest during some special service or as a singer coming in from the outside was in June of 1998.
At the end of the service, there was a call for those who needed prayer to come up front so that the pastor could lay hands on each person in need. I didn’t go up, but the next thing I knew; he came down, took me by the hand and pulled me up to the front of a building packed with over 300 people. He said he wanted to pray that God would heal my eyes.
Have you ever been so shocked that you literally could not react to stop what was happening around you? That was how I felt as I stood there with this man’s hands on my eyes and his booming voice in my ears. As I stood there, feeling numb and more than a little embarrassed, he cried out to god that the healing of my eyes could bring about a revival in this church. I could hear the people all around me getting excited. They shouted out words like Amen, Hallelujah, and praise god! Some of them were even weeping openly.
To this day, I don’t know how long it lasted, but I remember walking out of the building feeling completely shattered. Was I no more than a chance for these people to gain a bigger membership? Did they see me as a circus freak? Did they think that my blindness was something that was so horrible that it needed to be healed no matter how I felt about it? Did my feelings even make a difference to these people? Did the fact that I was used to being blind since I’d been like this all my life occur to them at all?
Needless to say, I never went back there again. Though I went to weddings and funerals at other churches from time to time, I didn’t seek out a new church until I started attending the Fargo Moorhead Unitarian Universalist church. Even after I found it by doing an Internet search, (Thank you, Google!), I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make it my permanent home.
That all changed after the first two services I attended. It took me two services because I knew enough to realize that my blindness is, and always will be, a contributing factor in how people interact with me. At the risk of sounding utterly tactless, it’s a novelty to meet someone who is disabled. It stirs the curiosity of those who are “normal.”
As each week passes, however, I’m finding my experiences at this church to be filled with richness and warmth. The people have remained as friendly as ever, and they even got me a braille hymnal in a very, very impressive amount of time.
The journey to find answers is still an ongoing one for me, as it is to us all. I’m not sure if I’ll ever find any answers to any of my questions before I die, but I plan to keep looking, and I’m going to have as much fun seeking as I possibly can.