Dealing With Blindness

As an archer, an arrow.      –The Dhammapada

Sometime towards the end of my first marriage, I tried to play the stock market and lost my shirt.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  It seemed like a way to augment my salary as a pastor.  I never took a vow of poverty, after all, but my investment strategies seemed to have that effect anyway.

It wasn’t the first time I shot myself in the foot, or the last.  I’ve done it enough times that I’m gun shy.  I approach decisions now like surveying a putt, studying every angle, talking to my caddy, making sure my feet are out of the way, waggling the putter, before finally pulling the trigger, and then I still worry it will ricochet off some unforeseen obstacle and hit me in the head.

It’s happened enough that I have to admit it’s me.  One time you can pass off as bad luck; more than that, and you have to look for the common denominator, which is you.  I’ve come to recognize that I have certain blindnesses.  There are some things I don’t see coming; problems can swoop out of nowhere like cloaked Klingon invaders to shoot me in the ass.  I wish I could describe exactly what they are, but I can’t.  That’s why they’re called blindnesses.  You see the effects, but the source never quite comes into view.

I’d feel weird, except we all have them, just as we all shoot ourselves in the foot.  Personal blindnesses are why our lives are beset by incidents of self-inflicted stupidity, the kind where you look back and wonder what you were possibly thinking.  Somehow, you didn’t hit what you were aiming for, and now you’re left holding nothing but your jock strap, as my football coach used to say.

Our personal blindnesses can often be obvious to others, because they’re not blind in the same way.  Alcoholics are infamous for being oblivious to the effects of their drinking.  One of my clients ran out of beer while watching his two toddlers.  Unable to wait for his wife to come home, he left the tots in front of the television, ran around the block to the corner grocery, and ran back to find police lights at his house.  The kids tried to follow him down the street, prompting calls from the neighbors.  He was forced into treatment, in order to keep his children, but never accepted the need.

In those cases, there’s little someone can do.  We could be missing one leg and still believe everybody else has an extra.  That’s the problem with being blind to some things; you really don’t see them.  You do feel the impact, though, and that is when we are most likely to notice our blindness.  There’s a brief period after getting in trouble that an addict is often willing to admit they can’t trust their own senses.  They need help dealing with something that they can’t see coming.

Alcoholics and drug addicts aren’t different than the rest of us; they just have a particular blind spot.  We all have them and suffer for them, one way or the other.  The trick is to admit they exist, and to recognize their effects.  Only then can we be on the lookout for those invisibility zones that cause us grief like hit and run drivers.

Another time I shot myself in the foot is illustrative.  During seminary, I trained as a pastoral counselor in a hospital.  One afternoon, I was asked to greet a young woman in the chaplain’s waiting room who had applied to enter the program.  I walked into the small, book-lined chamber and found a young woman sitting in a wheel chair, but I had no idea how she got into the wheel chair, since both her hands and feet were more akin to flippers.  Normally, I would shake a person’s hand, but she didn’t have a hand, and I didn’t know what to do.  So I smiled and said, “Hi, I’m Bucky.  I hear you want to take the pastoral counselor training.”

She smiled back and explained that she was in Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, a prestigious place where I didn’t get accepted, and wanted to become a hospital chaplain.  I was amazed.  She needed help to use a toilet, and she finished college and would soon finish a Masters Degree.  So I smiled and said, “Good for you!  You’ve accomplished a lot considering what you’re dealing with.”

Her eyes took on a glint.  “The only difference between me and you is that I know what my problems are.”

She was more right than she probably knew, and I took her words to heart.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

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