The quiet surgeon went on to explain how his life had gone from being the doctor to being the patient in a span of about 60 minutes. One moment he’s a surgeon doing what he believed God had designed him to do, the next moment he’s looking at his own x-rays which reveal that he’s now a cancer victim with less than 3 years life expectancy. Somehow, at the end of all this he was able to say “I thank God for the cancer”.
From that sobering testimony, the pastor turned to face a tent full of individuals who have their own sobering realities stuffed into bodies that are “imperfect” by conventional standards. He was able to face them and with words that defy logic, speak how each developmental difference was in fact more special than different, more a gift than a curse. That one set me back a bit. The tent was alive with human movement but little of it would be welcomed as special in most of the world. Jesus’s absurd metaphor came to mind, the one where he says “no loving father would give a stone or a snake to a hungry child who asks for bread”. None of the people in this tent asked to be here, none asked to have the dis-abilities that they carry. Most have prayed not to be cured but perhaps to limp a little bit less. Most of their caregivers prayed not for healing but for relief and from what I could see at the moment, the answer to the prayer seemed to be conditional. The enormity of it all began to overwhelm me as I sat there with a broken daughter on my left, a heartbroken, widowed father on my right, and my still-exhausted wife cautiously handing fruit snacks across an empty seat to my left-hooking daughter.
I looked across the noisy tent and boldly used the word dis-ability in my mind as I wrestled with this. I tried developmental difference and while it felt less offending a term, I knew that it was only putting a nicer face on an ugly reality. These people were broken and the broken-est one was sitting right next to me trying to punch her mother.
Then I saw his face. The young man was a visitor and he too suffered from dis-ability. He was dancing around with joy as he held onto a vacuum cleaner, dancing and running and pushing the thing like it was the greatest invention that life could offer. One of the other broken people knew that this man loved vacuum cleaners and brought it to the tent for the sole purpose of affording him this joy. Then again, I saw his face. I looked at his eyes from 30 feet away and I saw absolutely nothing. I saw no pain, I saw no confusion, I saw nothing but gentle love for everything that he encountered. I closed my eyes and listened to the cacophony around me for a moment, trying for the life of me to reconcile it with the thought of someone asking for the snakes or stones. I couldn’t logically connect the two, surely no one would ask for this.
Again, I saw his eyes. He’d moved further into the tent, having surrendered the vacuum cleaner for two plastic rattles; the props had changed but the eyes were the same – full of gentle love for whatever he was encountering. Something about those eyes and the fact that they were here at this point in MY time was starting to mesh. I nearly laughed as the image of Charleston Hesston playing the movie role of Judah Ben Hur popped into my mind: “I know this man”! My silly mind made a dramatic, Hollywood connection – those eyes. I was beginning to wonder if those two people were destined to travel all this way simply to teach me a non-verbal lesson? That lesson was becoming clearer each time I saw his eyes.
Somehow his soft expression taught me that it’s not my job to understand broken-ness. It’s not my job to fix broken-ness. It’s not my job to judge broken-ness. The only job I had was to be here in this tent, on this evening, with these people, for this moment. My job was to see this young man’s eyes – to see his mother’s smile and to know that of all the broken things in this tent, I was the broken-est. Me, not Bethany, not the surgeon, not the visitor, me. His eyes were perfect, mine were occluded. His eyes taught me that all are broken, even the perfect one was broken and I was guilty of having begun to look at the world “with and not through the eye”.
This tent on that night became the most beautiful place on earth because to be broken is to surrender to a power that is far greater than mine. The people in this tent know that surrender and they feel this power; they’ve mastered seeing through the eye and they know that “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me”.