My Father and the Blind Man
I first remember him at fifty years old, tall and strong. He dressed in bib overalls and heavy work shoes and wore dark glasses all the time. A friend of my father’s, he lived alone but worked for us at times. I remember that he carried his head cocked to one side and let it nod up and down—dad said it helped him to hear better. His name was John, and he was over forty years blind.
John lived in an unfinished, rustic one-room house with a very crooked chimney. The house was untidy and smelled of musty bedding and clothes, fried food, smoked bacon, coffee grounds, and coal and wood smoke. John had built the house—that accounted for the crooked walls and chimney. He ate mostly bacon and eggs, fried potatoes, bread and milk—that accounted for the smell.
Although John’s house was about a mile and a half from our house, and about the same distance from the service station (the only place for John to buy food), he could walk those gravel roads with a stride that my young legs envied.
He did minor carpentry work for people in town if they weren’t too particular about the finished product. One summer he worked with my dad to build the structure that became a service station. John would walk to our house, work with my dad during the day, eat sandwiches my mother prepared while he sat on a pile of boards or a wagon tongue, and then walk back to his home that night. There may have been times when dad took him home with a team and wagon or later in the car, when we had one, but I can’t remember it. I only remember John walking home and dad watching until he was out of sight.
Dad drove a school bus during the school season and would pass John’s house four times a day. He would honk the bus horn, the school kids would wave, and John would wave back as if he could see the students’ faces. When John would oversleep and not be at the little dark window, or if there wasn’t smoke coming out of the crooked chimney, dad would stop and holer from the bus doorway, “John how are you going to get things done if you sleep until noon?” John would come to the window and make some excuse about his alarm clock, and dad would leave.
In retrospect, the way my father managed his communications with John has built a lasting appreciation in my mind for my father. Dad didn’t read the works of great psychologists, attend lectures, or listen to tapes. He just used common sense and sensitivity. He checked on John almost daily, but I never remember him asking: “John, are you all right? Is there anything I can do for you? Do you need anything? Can I take you somewhere? Can I shovel your snow?”
Instead, dad would ask such questions as: “John, I’ve been preparing a ‘reading.’ Would you listen and see what you think?”
“John, I’m going to be putting up this building, or building this fence. What do you think of the idea? Could you help me with it?”
“What have you heard new on your Reader’s Digest records? Those are good ideas; I’ll write them down. Can I use your typewriter?”
Dad always asked for help from Blind John, and he always got help; but in truth dad was not getting—he was giving. In all he did with John, his message was: you are a person, you are important, your opinion means something, you have a right to be here; poverty is temporary and unimportant; dignity is eternal and essential.
In those days, when you could no longer take care of yourself, you went into an “old folks’ home.” At age seventy-one and ill, John decided to make the move, but it was not a defeat. There he regained his health and met a happy woman whom he called Sunshine. He shared his strong arms and legs with a lady who had never walked; she shared her eyes with a man who couldn’t see. John changed his life-style, became reconverted to the Church, was married in the Logan Temple, and lived a new and different life for thirteen years before he and his companion passed away. No one was happier for John during those last years than my dad.
Love and concern and independence. My dad, and Blind John.
“Lovest Thou Me More Than These?”
I was a young mother with five children under the age of six. My husband, Van, had just finished his first year of law school. We were a gospel-oriented family and had been blessed by the Lord; in fact, our married life was virtually free from serious adversity. My life revolved around my family. I loved being a wife and mother, and yet sometimes I realized my life was so filled with housework and day-to-day tasks that it lacked spiritual intensity. Still, I did not know how to change it. We tried to express gratitude for our blessings, but without real opposition, how does one know how truly blessed he is?
Lehi’s instruction to Jacob that there must be opposition in all things (see 2 Ne. 2:11–15) was soon to acquire new significance in my life. I know now that it takes opposition, suffering, adversity to awaken us to the genuinely valuable things in life. I have also come to know that one of the greatest lessons that can come from adversity is learning to accept the Lord’s will and to depend wholly upon him.
For some time I had been having dizzy spells, nausea, loss of balance, and other disturbing symptoms. I had a nursing baby. Van was preparing for law finals. It was a terrible time for me to get sick, but I was, and we had to do something about it. After my doctor checked my inner ears, he sent me to a neurologist, who promptly put me in the hospital for tests.
The tests were painful and left me with intense headaches and nausea. Many times I prayed for relief of pain and strength to endure, and I was surprised and humbled by the quick response to my prayers. The doctors were looking for a tumor, which was a little frightening, but Van and I naively imagined it would be something simple and operable and that I would be all right. Imagine my feelings when the neurologist came in one morning, looking very grave and upset, and said they had found a brain-stem tumor. It was serious. He told my husband such a tumor was inoperable and probably malignant. We were stunned. Suddenly our optimism vanished. The future seemed bleak.
I kept thinking of all the reasons I could not die: I could not leave Van—how would he manage? And what about my babies?
Many were praying for us. I found out weeks later, and am still touched when I think of it, that my mother prayed that, if possible, she would take my place should someone have to die. What love she showed! Our ward fasted and prayed, and I was deeply moved. While I was in the hospital I had no idea of the many wonderful people who were concerned.
My husband was a man in anguish. There were no regrets, but oh, we had planned to grow old together! We had always been close. How could we possibly get along without each other? He prayed for understanding, peace of mind, the courage to accept whatever happened.
I, too, prayed to have the right attitude. But it escaped me, until one morning I opened the Bible at random and was struck forcefully by the Lord’s words to Peter, “Lovest thou me more than these?” (John 21:15.) He seemed to be asking me that question. Did I love the Lord more than anything—more, even, than life itself? Yes, I told the Lord. Yes, I really did.
Finally, I was able to reconcile my feelings, to say, “Thy will be done” and really mean it. And when I could do that, I was filled with an inexpressible peace. I was no longer afraid. When I cried, it was because of my babies. How I hated to leave them to be raised by others! But we were an eternal family, sealed in the temple, and surely we would be together again.
During this period I felt very clearly the true significance of time on earth. In the eternal scheme, it is really so short, even if it lasts a hundred years. Those who are left on earth do miss the one who goes, but they should fill their lives with good things, and try to keep growing. The one who has died will be very busy in the spirit world.
Following my reconciliation with God, I felt a constant burning of the Spirit, and strength flowed from me to my loved ones. I began to understand that there were many in the spirit world waiting for me, and I would not need to feel afraid or alone. My loving father and my stepfather were both there to be with me. Yet the thought occurred to me over and over that I must keep my life in order. If somehow I were to live, I should see to it that I was prepared to die.
The doctors decided to give me a final test—a very painful injection of air into the spinal fluid. This would help pinpoint the tumor and perhaps tell the doctors more about it for possible cobalt treatments. Before the test, I received a beautiful priesthood blessing, promising that I would leave the hospital.
While I was recovering from the test, the doctor approached my family in amazement: there was no tumor. There was actually a space where the tumor had been, but nothing was there. The doctors had no explanation. They admitted to being baffled.
Suddenly I knew what the expression “a new lease on life” really meant. I had a new lease. After all, we are all here by the generosity of a loving Father and according to his wisdom. My “lease” had been renewed. After seventeen days in the hospital, I left, barely able to walk but supremely happy. This was the answer to the prayers of many faithful, wonderful people, and the blessing and power of the priesthood.
As I grew stronger, my life was once again filled with all the mundane chores of cooking, cleaning, laundry, and diaper changing. It was also, more than ever, filled with gratitude and happiness, and with an understanding of the need to constantly seek the Spirit, carefully teach the gospel to our children, and strive for more meaning in prayer.
My constant prayer now is that I will live to be worthy of the Lord’s confidence in me. None of us knows how long we may live. I hope to make the best of all the time I may have.