By Veronica Szczygiel
My tiny, five-pound Yorkshire terrier Sonya, in her old age, first became deaf and then blind. It happened suddenly and quickly. There was nothing I could have done to prevent it and no direct cause that could be pinpointed. The reality is that Sonya has to relearn her entire world and how to successfully function in it – but now, in complete silence and darkness.
There are ways that I try to help her navigate her new and difficult circumstances. Like going on walks, for instance. What used to be a time of leisure and gallivanting is now fraught with obstacles and dangers. Since I can’t communicate with Sonya through bodily gestures or by calling her name, I signal to her with her leash. I gently tug her leash toward me so she can avoid hitting her head against a lamppost, or so she won’t fall off the sidewalk curb. But Sonya does not always appreciate my new mode of communication. Headstrong and determined to follow her individual will, little Sonya possesses the stubbornness of a giant mule. Often when I save her from a head injury, she will defiantly and forcefully pull the other way.
Sonya’s predicament is, in a way, a centuries-old Biblical one. Jesus cures a man who was born blind. In the Gospel of John, Jesus performs this miracle in order that “the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Later, in the Acts of the Apostles, God strikes Saul blind for three days so that Saul may realize the sinfulness of his persecutions of Christians. Once he understood his wrongs, Saul (now Paul), became one of the Church’s most influential missionaries and leaders. As seen in these two instances alone, darkness is fraught with pain and suffering. It is scary for the individual who experiences it. It makes one vulnerable. But, darkness can be surmounted through Jesus and through spiritual healing. Light is, after all, a symbol of Jesus Himself, as He proclaims “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).
And yet, though Jesus fills our world with light, we as human beings frequently find ourselves in darkness. We ourselves are blind. Perhaps not physically blind, but spiritually and metaphorically blind. How often do we put the needs of others ahead of our own? How often do we thank God for all the blessings in our lives, instead of grumbling over the injustices? How often do we forgive instead of letting anger and hate fester within us?
Like Sonya’s very real blindness, we are often trapped in our self-made spiritual blindness. God gently “tugs” us in directions that are safe and filled with light. However, we headstrong, individualistic human beings often think that we know what is best for us and try to resist. Let us open our eyes and remember to heed God’s call and guidance, which often comes in such subtle and gentle tugs that only those who are truly awake – who can truly see – will understand.
Veronica Szczygiel is a member of St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus parish, Greenpoint, and a doctoral student in education at Fordham University.