Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Job 29) transports me to an unnamed city where out of the blue, people are being struck blind. The blindness spreads like the plague, and before long the government sets up a quarantine asylum in an attempt to contain the contagion. Life inside the asylum quickly breaks down into chaos; people gather in gangs for protection and to compete for the limited rations of food and water. We know the names of none of the characters in Jose Saramago’s intense novel that explores the limits of humanity’s capacity for good and ill. There’s the man with the black eye patch, the girl with dark glasses, the doctor (an opthamologist, no less), and the doctor’s wife. This last character, the doctor’s wife, plays hero in the story, as she is the only one in the city who seems to have an immunity to the blindness. She fakes her loss of vision in order to accompany her husband to the asylum, and watch out for him. She turns out to be a savior in many ways, helping their small band of sightless folks who have formed something of a family to overcome the evils of the King of Ward Three, a bully who has horded all the rations and demands all sorts of valuables and services in exchange for food. Once they escape the asylum and find that the entire city has fallen prey to the epidemic and chaos rules the streets, the doctor’s wife becomes the eyes to the blind, helping them avoid catastrophe after catastrophe, leading them into safety until finally, as suddenly as it struck, the blindness lifts. The people are then left wondering what to make of their humanity, after being pushed to the limits and engaging in so much inhumanity.
I thought of the doctor’s wife when I read Job’s discourse, his defense, I delivered the poor who cried, and the orphan who had no helper. The blessing of the wretched came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous, and made them drop their prey from their teeth. Job suffered from a level of chaos no less striking than the people of Saramago’s novel. He lost everything, family, property, health. When his friends kept accusing him of having some hidden sin that brought on his plagued life, he held his ground. He maintained his humanity, his dignity, and refused to succumb to the notions that life is just and fair and that he had gotten what he deserved. He had been eyes to the blind. He had been father to the needy. He had championed the cause of the stranger.
It seems sometimes like our culture has been struck with a plague of blindness. The breakdown of civility, the fortress mentality, the gang-like culture warfare and demonization of the other, all sounds like the makings of a Saramago novel. Many people can’t or simply refuse to see anything outside the narrow spectrum of their tightly controlled world view. In this myopic world where no epidemiologist appears to have an answer, Job and the doctor’s wife give us a reason for hope. We all have our blind spots, and we all need someone to be the eyes to the blind for us, to reveal to us what we are missing. Likewise, we all may have occasion to play the part of Job and the doctor’s wife; there may be times when any of us might see the truth in ways that others around us are unable to, because of cultural or religious blinders. The key, it seems to me, lies in one’s willingness to take off blinders and see something new. As the doctor in Blindness said to the woman with dark glasses: It is a great truth that says that the worst blind person was the one who did not want to see.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.