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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Eyes that See

Sitting in a coffee shop early this independence day, I saw a horrifying scene flash across the TV screen, as a subway station surveillance camera in South Korea captures an awful event with unblinking faithfulness.

It's early in the morning - people are milling around, waiting for the next train to arrive, when suddenly, a blind man leaps over the guardrail and lays down in the tracks. Horrified onlockers scream hysterically, some waving shirts and arms in an attempt to slow the oncoming train; others cry out to the man on the tracks, begging him to move while he still has time. At the last second - literally - two train station employees leap onto the tracks and drag the man off to the side. The train misses them by mere feet, if not inches.

What prompts a man to do this? Fear? Despair? Hopelessness? Lack of vision? Does he really have nothing left to live for? I realize that people are feeling more socially isolated than ever, but is his life really that empty? Is his future really that bleak?

The temptation here is to write his behavior off as irrational, incomprehensible - but I think that's something of a cop out. You see, if I am honest, I find that not only can I actually relate, but his conclusion makes perfect sense. I myself have felt that kind of despair at times - not to the point of climbing onto the tracks, but certainly to the point of being able to fathom it, to understand the emotions that might drive someone to make that kind of ultimate action.

I myself have felt it at times in my marriage. Once not so long ago I told my wife, "I can understand why men leave their wives." That's not a reflection on her - it really says more about me. You see on the whole we actually have a very strong, healthy marriage. But at times, I find myself choosing what data I am going to process - I can very easily focus on the flaws, the faults, the imperfections, to the point where the only possible, logical conclusion is despair.

The problem here is not my logic - that actually functions quite nicely. No, the problem is that I am biased to only admit certain data, data that supports how I feel about the situation at the moment.

We all do this, in one place or another. We look at what's going on around us and we draw conclusions about the future. That is a huge act of faith on our part. We choose to believe ourselves rather than what God or others have to say. We effectively confess that 'My eyes are ultimate - I see clearly and will be the ultimate interpreter of the future.' We do exactly the same thing that Adam and Eve did in the garden: we look at the forbidden fruit, and we attempt to rewrite the story based on our own interpretations.

We were not designed to live this way. As Camus said, "The only real philosophical question is suicide" - by this he meant, why shouldn't we do it? If we will be the gods of our own universe, then suicide is the only real option because we are ultimately gods who are weak, finite, bent, and mortal.

And yet, deep down, in spite of our optimistic atheism, we all know that suicide is NOT the right option. Why did the people scream and beg for this man to move? Why did two workers put their own lives at risk to save his? At the end of the day, why will almost everyone (rightly) recognize their actions as good, just, noble, right? Why shouldn't I divorce my wife when things look bleak?

I think that deep down we simply cannot suppress the knowledge of God - that he exists, that he has created us, and we are destined for something better. We are imago dei, image of God, fallen and bent, yet the resemblance unmistakably persists. We know that it is tragic to throw away human life because we know there is something noble in every life.

We know that this nobility often comes through most clearly in the midst of hard times - like blindness, like conflict. Real beauty, the kind that is transcendant and unquenchable, shines most clearly when it persists even after one is wronged by others, robbed of hope. Humans are meant to be glorious. They are meant to be able to see the world rightly even when you take away their eyes. They are meant to be in relationship with one another, to persist in marriage not because it is convenient or beneficial to them, but because they have obligated themselves to another human being, to stick with them through thick or thin, for better or worse.

Humanity is meant for something more, for someone more. But we have these weak feeble eyes that keep turning inwards on ourselves. And when we do that, we despair because all we can see is ourself and our fundamental inability, weakness and frailty. We are like vapor, and life is like a gale. The only way to stay the course is to trust in someone that sees better than we do, who can look further down the road.

That is faith. That is what God calls us to. And that is our only hope for meaning and fulfillment - to live a life that is grounded in others, in Another. We need eyes that see they way his do.


At 4:57 AM, July 05, 2006, Blogger fidelity said...

great points in the article. Have you seen and how they are helping marriage?

At 8:20 AM, July 05, 2006, Blogger Ryan Kellermeyer said...

This is good, dude. Thanks.

At 8:27 AM, July 05, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Thanks Ryan. Hope life is treating you well (in spite of how the Phillies are playing ;-). We sure miss everyone at Spirit and Truth...

At 12:45 AM, July 12, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

A friend in recovery often says, "The surprise isn't that people try to end their lives. The surprise is that more of us don't join them."

For me, there have been a number of times when the "flight or fight" choice would have been "flight" - and but for the grace of God (and the tragic example of the suicide of my own best friend) I would have been right there with them.

In my experience, it wasn't that I thought that I had nothing left to live for. It was a weakening, a sense of I don't think I have enough strength to make it through this crisis, and the one after this, and.... It's the same thing you talked about with your marriage - the idea of Am I going to have to go thru this for the rest of my life?

In many ways, the 12-step concept of "just for today" means that I can endure for 24 hours situations that would cause me to jump in front of a train if I thought it would endure a lifetime.

I really identified with this:
I find myself choosing what data I am going to process - I can very easily focus on the flaws, the faults, the imperfections, to the point where the only possible, logical conclusion is despair.

My experience is that what I focus on, grows - and my attitude is everything. Taking public transit to work, I can sometimes find myself annoyed when it seems that someone is holding up boarding the bus - until I see the mechanical lift extending with a wheelchair- or walker-bound person. All of a sudden, I really don't care whether I'm late to work...

My favorite story on this topic is an old Cherokee story:

An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me...It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride and superiority. The other wolf stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too."

They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied..."The one I feed."


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