I propped the rake against the sentinel oak near the driveway. Before raking leaves in the meadow, I needed to remove branches and sticks that had fallen during the winter. Cato trotted beside me, enjoying the warmth of the morning’s spring-like weather.
The slope drops steeply at the edge of the lower meadow. To avoid falling, I scooched to snag the end of a good-sized stick. The other end, embedded in soil, boomeranged into my face. I dropped the bundle of sticks, cupped my right eye, and carefully blinked away debris. Though my eye had taken quite a blow, I could see just fine.
“Come on, Cato, let’s get some more sticks.” I took this photograph of one of our stick-piles and dwarf irises in bloom. But my eye was watering—a lot—so I called it quits.
After washing my hands, I rinsed out any remaining debris with eye drops and, since I couldn’t find any damage, sat down at my laptop to work on an essay. As I wrote, my eye increasingly felt as if there was still some debris floating around. I checked it in the bathroom mirror again then asked Keith to take a look.
“I don’t see anything,” he said, lifting my eyelids this way and that. “Your eye looks fine.” But it felt uncomfortable, so I took an anti-inflammatory recommended for eye pokes and returned to write while mopping tears flowing out of my eye.
Early afternoon, I looked up from the computer screen. A needle-sharp jab shot through my eye. I’m going to go blind, I thought; I’m going to lose my eye. This happens to others, but not to me.
Pastor Timothy Keller is a year older than me and dying. In this month’s Atlantic, he wrote: “I have spent a good part of my life talking with people about the role of faith in the face of imminent death. Since I became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1975, I have sat at countless bedsides, and occasionally even watched someone take their final breath. I recently wrote a small book, On Death, relating a lot of what I say to people in such times. But when, a little more than a month after that book was published, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was still caught unprepared.”
Keller and his wife cried tears of disbelief. “This couldn’t be; what was God doing to us?” He found himself thinking, “What? No! I can’t die. That happens to others, but not to me.” But as death became “head” real to him, he realized his faith would have to become “heart” real. Before his diagnosis, Keller always looked to the next book, the next task, the next work project. Now he and his wife found joy in simple things.
“This change was not an overnight revolution,” he wrote. “As God’s reality dawns more on my heart, slowly and painfully and through many tears, the simplest pleasures of this world have become sources of daily happiness. It is only as I have become, for lack of a better term, more heavenly minded that I can see the material world for the astonishingly good divine gift that it is.”
I cupped my hand over my poked eye. “Keith, you’re going to have to take me to the doctor. This really hurts.”
“I still can’t see anything in your eye, and it looks normal. Why don’t you try resting? Using your eye probably caused the irritation.”
“But I haven’t practiced yet, and it’s a perfect day to wash the dogs and walk Cato to the mailbox.” All the things I’d planned to do that afternoon.
“You can do those things another time. Now you need to rest. It’s my job to help you take care of yourself, as you did when I injured my knee last month.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll cover my right eye with a scarf and practice.” Keith sighed.
Both eyes watered while I practiced; I couldn’t see the music. I put my flute away, lay down, and closed my eyes. With my head and heart, I focused my prayers on the divine and dozed.
When I got up, the sensation of something in my eye was gone. No more sharp jabs shot through my eyeball. No sight impairment from watering, only a dull ache. The next day, my eye felt better. So, I did one simple thing then another and another, all with the joy of being able to do so.
I didn’t go blind or lose an eye. But like Tim Keller’s ultimate poke in the eye, it took the reality of my own human frailty to orient my head and heart toward the divine. May I remember to rest in Him during times of fear and of joy—to see and savor the simple moments in life.
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