Two months ago I woke up unable to see from my left eye. I was shocked and dismayed. The optician sent me straight to hospital where the consultant diagnosed a detached retina and arranged an operation the next morning. It lasted an hour under a local anaesthetic which allowed me to follow what was happening. He found that the there was scar tissue due to the tearing of the retina, which required very delicate skill to remove. He estimated that there was a 50/60% chance of success. For at least a week I could see virtually nothing from the eye, but then slowly sight returned, albeit somewhat blurred. When I returned to see the consultant, he was pleased by what had been achieved, promising that there would be further improvement. Today my sight is not blurred, but still a little dim. Eventually, due to the operation, a cataract will develop, which can be treated successfully.
What have I learned from this experience?
1. I am not good at coping with illness or disability. I have never had serious illness or disability , and have prided myself on remaining fit for intellectual and sporting activities into my eightieth year. The eye problem challenged that view of myself: would I still be able to run and climb mountains? Would I be cut off from the natural environment and its living creature#? What if I could no longer read, and write? Could I learn Braille at my age? My steps were no longer sure because my estimate of distance was affected. Almost overnight I had become a cripple and I didn’t like it. I realised that physical and mental capacity had become for me an entitlement rather than a gift. Who was I to imagine that the ills of mortal life would give me the body-swerve? I had always been ready with my compassion for the sick, the frail and the disabled but I did not want to be the object of the compassion of others.
2. If I say that I had been blessed with good health, I do not mean that God decided to give me this gift as opposed to others. God desires equal blessing for all creatures, and works persuasively within all events to bring about good. I mean that God’s persuasion can be resisted, especially by human beings. I do therefore give thanks to God for my customary good health and for the development of free health care in the UK.
3. I have also gained a better understanding of the courage shown by the many people who have suffered frequent illness or lifelong impairment. How hard is must be to live creatively under those burdens, or to have faith in a good God. So I give thanks for those whose lives have challenged mine towards greater courage and faith.
4. God’s goodness does not work without channels in the world. Such a channel might be the years-long learning process in a field which allows a good topsoil to develop. Another might be the ability of geese, learned over generations and become innate, to travel to their breeding grounds. Another again might be the patient and precise learning which enables an ophthalmic surgeon to mend a detached retina. God’s miracles do not sidestep the processes of nature, but work through them. God will not perform the good deed that is neglected by his humans.
5. Doing God’s goodness requires not just willingness but relevant skill. Jesus did not merely WANT to heal the sick he KNEW HOW TO. In the crisis of the Pandemic, many churches have been inspired by those capable of practical care, the organisers of communal support, the cooks, the volunteer drivers, the teachers of computer skills, and many more. The application of such skills makes God’s goodness effective for needy people, leaving them filled with gratitude, as I am, as I use my eyes to write this blog.