Once upon a time when I was something between 14-16 years old I went blind…or thought I did.
At the time I was at a small Christian school in Central Indiana. Every ounce of my being loved my school, from the strange thorny trees at one entrance to the single hallway that contained the 7th-12th grade.
The day I thought I went blind began like most of my days. I woke up at 6 am, took a shower, blew my hair dry and excitedly packed my bag for school. Into my bag I stuffed doodle-filled books and my jean purse backpack (the closest thing to style I aspired to that decade). Smiling broadly, I reached over to my vanity and spread open an enormous pioneer-styled denim dress. Yards and yards of denim were sewn together to reach to the ankles and wrists, though I would roll the sleeves up myself, as they were just a bit too much for me. To top it off, there was a white apron with a near-equal amount of frills!
Glee filled my heart at the excitement of getting to wear that dress at school. My lifelong dream of becoming a pioneer had practically arrived in the form of a grammar class assignment, which had been to deliver a group presentation dressed as characters from the period described. This was my period. Oh the elation! Some of my friends knew that I had pined for the long braids of Laura Ingalls Wilder or the peculiar hardships of Anne of Green Gables in order to elevate my imagination to greater heights. It was no surprise then that dressing up as a teenager in school promised to be the highlight of my life to that point.
I wadded up my dress and stuffed it in my backpack, ready to go. All that was left was getting to that class!
Details of the presentation have faded from memory, although I am fairly certain if I dug, I could find my exact emotions, thoughts, and observations from volumes of journals I kept during this time. You see, my after school hobby was well, to write. After finishing homework, I would bring out my journal, where I would write for at least an hour, detailing every experience and incident of the day. After this, if dinner didn’t interrupt me, I’d launch into a second hour writing in my diary, a private book where I shared the impact of these experiences–where I would wildly leap about with my pen, wondering whether such and such a person still wanted to be friends and puzzling over whether it was important to believe in predestination or not. Then if you can imagine it, I would reach for a third volume, my prayer journal, where I would spend up to yet another hour writing my prayers to God in a half-English, half-Spanish cursive, nearly completely illegible. IF time remained after these many hours of writing, I would then go back and reread what I had written that night and perhaps the week before.
I can hardly believe it myself. Yet this was what I loved. And that is how I know that somewhere I have a volume that explains and describes my joy at that day.
Needless to say, this is the first time I’ve retold the story in writing for more than the teenage audience of me (for I’ve told plenty of people through conversation and side-bending peals of laughter). It is possible I was sweaty-palmed, standing up at the front of the classroom and that I had contemplated leaving my contacts out in order to avoid eye contact with any of my peers. However, the joy of wearing my pioneer garb likely eclipsed my normal anxiety rituals, and I am sure I stood proudly in that insane attire believing myself to be so much closer to history and certainly better aligned with the real Amber–the soulful girl who commonly found herself trapped for lack of interest or radar of late 20th Century trends, music, or style.
I’d likely have lamented to that extent that night at the start of my three-hour journaling life, but the joys of farm girl came crashing to halt around 1 pm that afternoon when I suddenly, inexplicably went blind.
We’d finished our presentation and the lot of us dispersed to the hallway bathrooms. I tucked the edge of my flowing dress and apron in my hand, and swished proudly to the bathroom. I wondered if anyone had noticed my high laced boots–a pair I’d bought for a steal at the Goodwill just a week or two before. Certainly these boots would have shone among my 19th Century friends’ pairs had I had just this pair and had I been from the 19th century or before. No matter, with them on foot, I was prouder and more comfortable than I’d ever been in the school’s dress code of skirts and dresses, things which I had always felt clung oddly to me or hung at strange angles from my shoulders and knees.
My typical way of moving as a teen (and even now I must admit) was full of clutz. To this day I unfortunately cannot help but to step on people’s feet when I hug them, and therefore I both dread and avoid hugs at all cost. In its early forms as a teen, my clumsiness was already apparent to me. I was so fixated on not making an impression and on not being noticed, that inevitably I would achieve the opposite every time. Not so in my pioneer dress. I did not worry about making an impression–I knew I was the embodiment of earlier times in America and my soul was at rest in that knowledge.
With this confidence, I traipsed happily to the bathroom to doff my dress. A few other girls came with me, having dressed up on the occasion too. The bathrooms, perhaps 4 stalls wide, were nothing extraordinary. All the elements you think of in school bathrooms of the mid 90’s were there–too large cracks between stalls, chipping beige paint covering aluminum doors, linoleum floors and sinks scattered beneath misaligned mirrors.
I was sitting fully dressed on the toilet stuffing my dress back into my backpack when it happened. From one moment to the next I suddenly could see nothing. Absolutely nothing. Instantly, I flung my right hand up in front of my face, but I could not see even the faintest outline. The whir of water from girls washing their hands was loud, as were their chatting voices–not a single one of them stopped to exclaim or express surprise at the sudden blackness.
It took all my mental efforts to not collapse on the floor in that moment. My hands shook as I finished zipping my backpack and let it slide off my legs. I turned my hands back and forth in front of what I knew was my face. I squinted and popped my eyes wide. Nothing helped. Within a minute the noise from the others in the bathroom subsided as girl after girl left the bathroom. I listened to the growing silence with the door as it thudded once, twice, three times and more.
God in his impossible plan had brought to fruition my worst nightmare–He had unequivocally decided to make me blind. For years I had tossed and turned in bed wondering what it would be like to go blind. In fact, it was through my idol Laura Ingalls’ story that I first realized blindness was a tragedy that not only were some born with but that sometimes occurred as the result of illnesses. From the moment I had read about Mary Ingalls, Laura’s sister, going blind, I had prayed nightly for God to preserve my sight and to grant me both physical and spiritual eyes to see whatever He might want me to see. Yet, I was continually in fear that I might displease Him and He might strike me blind too if I were to get too far off course.
In those moments in the bathroom stall somewhere between 8th and 10th grade, I was 100% convinced that I was blind. That it was an act of God. And that the very next thing I had to do in life was to surrender my will back to Him. I have no idea why it was that into my mind came to all these assumptions and conclusions and why logic did not push them all aside in those moments. Yet, as I twisted and turned my head, hands, and body in that stall, trying to figure out why it was that I couldn’t see, the simplest answer was simply that God was striking me next with blindness.
Once I had accepted the reality of the fact that here I was not even able to drive yet, but blind, I stopped shaking and felt around for my things on the bathroom floor. I thought for a few moments about what I needed to do. I determined that I would not cry or complain about my affliction, but that I would walk proudly, even if with a cane or seeing eye dog. I knew I could make it through school–we only had one hallway after all! I wondered for a moment if it was the pride I’d taken in being a pioneer for the day that was my downfall. No, I decided, it was likely the very fear of becoming blind that actually got me to the place where I had now found myself–the place of a person without sight. At the same time I contemplated the cause of my fate, I made a mental note that after I had learned Braille I would continue journalling. I vowed to confess in writing to the Lord that I was also deathly afraid of going bald, loosing my teeth or becoming an amputee just in case that really was the reason I was now blind. The truth as I thought of it then was that I might have been able to survive one terrible fate, that to embody any of the others would overwhelm me pass even the depths of my own imagination.
My hands and forearms clung to the stalls as I scooted myself from one stall to the next feeling my way toward the bathroom door which I knew was just around the corner. Then as I rounded that wall, a sliver of light from beneath the door became visible. In that instant, I did collapse to the floor. In joy. My sight had been restored. In that moment, I realized that yes, someone had turned off the lights and for some perplexing reason no one had been surprised, but that lessons on life were ripe for the picking that day.
I learned many things I had not realized before. One, that God does not punish us for the fears of fearsome things. Two, that raising my voice in a moment of confusion could have saved me from all those despair-filled minutes. Three, that I possibly could have accepted life as a woman without eyesight! How had I in that moment been willing to in surrender to a life of being blind? I’m still baffled by it all. And finally that my imagination was truly out of control.
And I have yet to learn how to contain it.
And that is how it happened the day that I both went blind and recovered my sight…or at least the way it appeared to me anyway.