Trying Not to See

God, what am I called to do for You in this world of suffering and beauty? – Molly Baskette 
 looking through my fingers

I sit with my head down. My hands cover my eyes.  My eyes, closed hard, behind them. I don’t want to look.  I don’t want to see. Too much pain and suffering in the world – too much hurt.  If I look, I might have to respond.

I assuage my latent guilt by pretending not to know.  Like a German citizen in denial of the concentration camp just over the hill, I look the other way and ignore the train that crossed my path today. I am too small and weak to risk knowing the truth.  That’s what I would tell myself, if I let the whisper of that reality surface in my soul.  I’m sufficiently practiced in denial that I rarely need that extra shield.

So I sit in a self-imposed prison, whose bars are my own fingers. I shut my eyes hard against the world and blind myself against the chance of seeing.  And in my faithless fear, I miss the throb of life.  I shield my eyes from beauty in the quiet touch of true connection, as much as I shield them from the scalding glance of hate.

That is when I finally notice your presence beside me on the bench. That is when you poke me with your knee and chuckle lightly under your breath. That is when I let the single tear escape my eye and trickle down my cheek.  I reach to wipe it away and the prison bars are gone. Another tear. Your fingers catch this one.

Your patient smile pulls me out of my dark hole. I rest my hand on the table in front of me and you place your own, grizzled and worn, on top of it. Mine is cold. Yours is warm.

You chuckle again. “Painted yourself into a corner, once more, didn’t you? Imagining the mountain, you ignore the small stone in your path. You have strength for the stone.”

You turn on the bench to face the path that runs beside us. I turn, as well.  There is, indeed a stone upon the path, and a larger scattering of rocks. A family on their way to market has stopped to move them aside, so their cart can make the turn without spilling any of the load.  We rise to lend them a hand.

Hardly a great sacrifice. Hardly any mitigation of the suffering in the world – though I might have added just a bit to a sense of cruel insensitivity, had I remained, closed around myself on the bench – so close and yet unwilling to help out.

By looking up and reaching out, at least I managed not to add the insult of indifference to the troubles of this family. Instead, with welcome smiles, they let me share this modest chore and offer me an ear of fresh corn from the back of their cart when the path is clear

Not really my role to save the world, today.  But the pleasant offer of mutual help, of shared endeavor – I do have strength for that. More strength, indeed, when it is done, than before it was begun.

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