"Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch, marry 'tis enough." --Mercutio, in Romeo and Juliet
Friday afternoon the weekend loomed glorious in my mind. I had finished my day's work and was outside doing a little weeding before heading inside to make dinner and launch into the sunny days ahead. Distracted by the billions of forget-me-nots that had sprung up like weeds, I didn't see a very sharp twig of my lilac bush, which proceeded to jab me in the eye, as if to poke fun at all the plans I had ahead. I had actually done this to myself before, and thought I could breathe through it, sort of like going through childbirth or something.
An hour later there was still the same excrutiating pain and I realized maybe I should try to fix it, because, after all, I'm a photographer, and I had a maternity session scheduled for the next day, and a newborn session to finish editing and to deliver. I was shocked by the gravity with which the doctors took my statement that I had a scratched cornea (the cornea is that clear, jelly like part in front of the iris of your eye), and realized that it probably wasn't an easy fix with a little ibuprofen and ointment.
When the ophthamologist saw me, he gave me some numbing drops as he examined the two scratches to my cornea. They made me feel completely normal, but he told me that when they wore off in fifteen minutes, I'd have to tough out the pain.
Numbing the pain, he said, hinders the healing.
How accurate, and how painfully true I found this to be over the next 24 hours. I agreed with a friend who had experienced the same that going through labor a million times would be infinitely more pleasant than a scratched cornea. I began to realize how weak and needy I really am when my vision and connection to light was warped and became physically painful.
As I tossed and turned for the rest of the afternoon, all night, and into the next day, miserably trying to conjur up ways to relieve the pain, I began to consider all of my friends and family who live in chronic pain, whether physically or mentally. I thought of the friend who rode to school with me each day as a teen, the most cheerful and positive person I knew, who later told me that every single day she lived with migraines. I thought of my husband's good friend, who after unsuccessful surgery to his sinuses, lives in daily pain, and yet is probably one of the most peaceful and easy going people you will ever meet. I thought of my friends, two sisters, who live daily with gastrointestinal issues that would defeat me. I thought of my dad and a friend, both of whom wake each morning, not knowing whether their emotional state is secure enough to stand the rigors of the day ahead.
I thought of the panic I felt, unable to fix the pain I was in, and knowing I had to endure. I thought of the fear of losing the sharpness to my vision and thereby losing my photography. And I realized that these friends of mine experience these same feelings each day. I can understand now more deeply how so many in our culture are driven to the drink or to other means of numbing pain. There is the feeling that one would do anything to escape the frantic scrambling and clawing around in the darkness of pain or loneliness and the shocking exposure to light and truth.
I can understand this, but what mystifies me and drives me to the throne of God is the way my friends in all their anguish, have rejected that tempation. Even as they accept the necessary medications for their conditions, there is the day to day struggle they must fight.
They could choose to numb all of their pain, but they know inside that it will not help them heal.
Instead, in their desperation, even weary as they must be, they carry a faith and a hope that gives them strength to survive, to endure and to press on.
Because my eye was allowed to run its natural course of healing, the nerve endings of my eye are once again cushioned by new cells, and by the time 24 hours had passed, I could blink without wincing. The pain is now greatly eased, though the shock of contrast between brightness and dark hurts. As I leave this small trial behind, I do not want to forget this small glimpse into the wonder of the strength of humanity bolstered by the unwavering strength of God. I want to be reminded that all around me are people enduring the kind of frantic anguish I felt, and that there is hope to be shared, and I want to help others to notice those around them enduring daily trials just like my friends.
As you go about your life this week, take extra time with me to think about and consider the quiet strength or even desperation that lies just below the surface of what may seem to be just a scratch. Will you remember with me to embrace those people with compassion and love? By caring for someone in the midst of their struggles and walking beside them as they endure, we might get to be a part of the beautiful process of growing and healing.