Once winter receded and spring broke open the frozen places, once grass greened and sucking mud firmed, we crossed fresh pasture where cattle grazed new growth. We drove Old Blue, the rickety rusted work truck, bouncing our way back to the furthest northern corner where a large pond filled a depression formed by two sloping hills, its blue bold against the brown becoming green, its skin flitting sunlight like fireflies as it fluttered with the breeze. Here bass and catfish thawed too, still moving slowly from their languid winter slumber. Slowly, yet they moved, searching, hungry for something more than silt and bottom sludge. It was perfect opportunity for squirming worm and sharp barbed hook.
There were several smaller ponds along our way, mere watering troughs for the cattle, a loud and lazy retreat for bull and tree frogs once summer fully fell in. Old Blue bounced and careened side to side as we followed the faint yet familiar rut of the season before. I planted my feet firmly against the floorboard and grasped the dash with both hands to save my skull the inevitable pounding against the cab above. We sang some song bristling through the static of one speaker, squinted our eyes against the rising sun.
As we passed one of these smaller ponds, a sudden spark of light caught the corner of my eye. I turned towards that glint, towards the east and the pond and the blinding morning sun. I lifted my palm in a shading salute and forced my eyes open, focused into that great light and that’s when I saw her, one rotund black cow with one white banded eye smack dab in the middle of that pond. There she was, right in the middle, swimming circles, one right after the other like a second hand rounding “12”, then “6″, then “12” again.
My head beat the cab and my teeth clenched my own tongue and I cringed.
I rolled down my window and stuck my head out into the crisp morning air and that’s when I heard her, heard her huffing and puffing, gasping in and snorting out, blowing back water just a mere breath below her nose, a fine golden spray rising up. She’d been there a while, been there long enough to nearly wear herself out, her one black-circled eye bulging starkly bold and white and afraid.
“She’s ten feet from shore,” I said. “Why doesn’t she get herself out of there? Why does she keep going in circles?”
“Because she’s blind in one eye,” said the man beside me. “She goes the direction she can see. That’s all she knows to do.”
* * * * *
I lost my sight last week; only in one eye, but more than enough to scare me senseless. I’m a writer, a reader, an art-maker. How will I function without full sight? How can I draw a straight line when I can’t even walk in one; when every step I take is skewed off to one side? How will I do the things I know to do?
Then I felt guilty for whining when many have no sight at all. I felt guilty for taking for granted something I’d always had. I felt guilty for wasting so much time with a gift I’d been given.
But I whimpered just the same.
The next day I went in to surgery, laying there fully awake because they needed me still yet responsive, laying there with my nose making a silly little tent a mere breath above my mouth and the doctor’s wrist pressing down on my forehead to steady his hand. They gave me a mild sedative and I thanked God else I thought I might lose my mind before they fixed my eye. As the medicine seeped in my panic seeped out and I steadied myself. For nearly two hours I lay there covered in blue paper and the sounds around me, my one good eye closed and my mind focused on something, anything but the work above me.
Not too long ago a woman asked me how I had managed to move past my anger, my bitterness. How had I gotten out of the pit I’d wallowed in for so long. I answered her with the same blunt, curt, one-word, one-name answer I’d heard myself so many times before:
Her frustration and bewilderment spoke from two searching eyes, and I recognized that look, remembered those feelings. I began again.
Many years ago a therapist told me I didn’t want to change. Not really.
And it made me furious. How did she know what I wanted or didn’t want? How could she possibly know how badly I wanted free of my misery? How could she have any idea? And even so, how could she say such a thing anyway? Her statement infuriated me so much I left the sessions. I never went back.
But I did.
Very soon I was right back in that pit of bitterness and despair again. I sought help again. Again I was told I didn’t want to change. Not really. Once again I left and never looked back.
Except I did.
Three years later: a new town, a new set of circumstances (and still the old), a new doctor; the same words. Maybe this time I was little angrier, a little more broken, a little more desperate because I didn’t run. I sat stone still and looked back at the doctor with the same frustration and bewilderment. This time I implored an explanation, begged a clear, definitive answer. Give me more, I said to her. Give me more than a curt reply. Please.
So she tells me how where I am is where I’ve always been, whether by their hand or my own was irrelevant. Where I was was a familiar, comfortable place, like it or not, healthy or not, safe or not. She tells me how it’s what I know, all I know, so I sit right there.
And she was right. I’d worn contours to my own body, my own feelings, my own beliefs. I’d been where I was so long I left a clear impression behind if ever I moved.
We live what we know, she said. We do what we know. We go the way we know to go. It’s the only clear vision we have. She tells me to change means to venture off into the unknown, to walk into a blind spot. And that scares us. That scares us more than staying right where we are. So, we stay. We stay right where we are despite what we say we want.
Instead, familiarity begs us on, flesh following circles and ruts and our own tails til one day we fall over, spent.
I’m under this blue paper my mouth dry as dead bone trying not to flinch at the tug and pinch in my eye, the doctor’s heavy hand pushing my forehead into the cup cradling my head from behind and I get so far as “…for thou art with me…”
and have to stop.
It’s then that it dawns on me: I’m not with Him. Not in the least. Not for a long time now. Life got hard, situations got tricky, I got scared. So, I did what I’d always done: I retreated. I retreated down familiar ruts and circled wide all blaring caution signs and tromped my Self right back in to that old familiar pit. I went the only way I could see. No. I went the only way I looked.
I looked out instead of up.
I clung to old ways rather than my God.
Prone under that sheet with fluid seeping warm into my vein and the rhythmic beep-beep-beep of the monitors, I begin to wonder how there’s any beep at all. How can my heart flounder on when I feel so very dead inside. And it’s then I realize just how far I’ve fallen, just how deep I am.
It’s then I realize that shore is right there, a mere breath away, waiting.
I try not to move as I recall telling my story to the woman, and I try not to squirm as I recall my final words to her:
“When the fear of the unknown looks so much better than the pain you’re living in, when staying the same frightens you more than doing something new, that’s when you’ll change. And the only way I know to be brave and strong enough for that is with God.”
I moan inside and the doctor above me says, “still now”.
And he’s right.
And suddenly, all these years later, I’m thinking of that cow circling, moving in the only direction she sees, the only way that’s familiar, huffing and puffing under the mounting exhaustion of keeping her own self afloat.
We clamor out of Old Blue and find two long broken branches, then wade out to her, to her good eye, blocking her rounding path, pushing and guiding her towards her blind side, towards shore waiting, firmament offering rest. In pure exhaustion she allows herself to be led, hooves finally grabbing bottom. She heaves the bulk of herself up and onto shore where she collapses, spent, frantic eyes lolling in some kind of outspoken gratitude. We pat her rump and go about our fishing.
As we leave the pasture later that day we find her up and watching as we pass, eyes wide and blinking back sunlight, sides slowed into a more normal push and pull of breath. The next morning we return to sink our lines again and there she is, heaped into a bloated mass, one white-clad eye bobbing above the surface, still as life lost.
And I broke. I broke to sobbing pieces over a stupid cow who’d been saved, who was standing on solid ground last I looked, who breathed life in and out as spring sun dried her skin, as birds chirped and buds broke and grass grew around her. I fell apart at the fragility of it all, all this life, the futility of saving when one doesn’t really want to be saved, or knows not how to be. I broke at the utter ignorance that drives animals back into a consuming pit.
And then I never thought of her again.
This morning I’m asked if I had to choose, if it came to my vision or God’s, if I could see the world, or see Him, which would I choose.
I’d choose Him.
I’d choose the peace of His presence over the chaos of this world any day, every day.
Or, would I?
This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.
Jeremiah 6:16 NIV
I’d like to think I would. I’d like to believe I would.
I want to.
This is what the LORD says– your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.
Isaiah 48:17 NIV
I want to stop following ruts worn familiar and circles never ceasing. I want to quit veering one way, my way, when I should walk another. Could. I want to turn away from that pit and never think of it again.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Isaiah 30:21 NIV
I want to see Him blocking my path and herding me off another way. His way. I want to feel His holy firmament rise up to meet my flailing feet. I want to lie down in green pastures beside still waters, warmed by His presence, new life budding before me.
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.
Isaiah 42:16 NIV
I want to call Him Shepherd, following in love and gratitude, reverence and obedience. I want to follow Him for all He is and all He’s done. I want to follow Him for all the things hoped for but not yet seen.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
I want to be a girl who chooses Him. Blindly. Wherever He may lead.
They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it. They will come and bind themselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten.
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