I don’t believe in God. To suggest that simply surprised my religious parents would be putting it lightly. Do your clients usually talk about their parents so soon? I was fourteen years old. Teenage angst, boys, school drama, whatever you want to pin it on, my family thought I’d move on from it.
I didn’t. It makes holidays loads of fun.
Most people find catastrophe as proof of God’s absence. They point to the Holocaust, to 9/11, to mass murders and to illness and wonder how someone supposedly benevolent and kind could allow such travesties and be a piece of his plan.
Here’s my problem with God: it’s the little injustices.
Spilling hot coffee on your lap, running to catch the bus only to turn the corner and see it pulling away, getting food poisoning at your favorite restaurant. These are the things that chip away at us, the small things. The type of stuff that makes someone walk into work with a shotgun or hang themselves from a lamppost in front of a library. They feel spiteful. Too intentional and personal. Because they’re all part of “God’s Plan.”
What kind of God would be so petty?
* * * * *
The day started like any other, she was ready to go, I was late. As she sat on the bench near our front door, legs swinging, singing a nameless tune, I was applying my makeup and somehow brushing my teeth at the same time.
I wish always being late brought me a sort of comfort. Comfort in knowing that once late, I can no longer be on time, I’ve already missed the deadline so what’s the rush? But instead, with every passing minute my anxiety grows and the only thing that will bring me comfort is arriving at my destination.
So I was speeding, but that’s not what caused the accident.
We were on our way to her school and a drunk driver ran a red light. Yes, drunk. At 7am, this piece of—sorry, this woman was at the climax of what had to be a three day bender. She T-bones my car on the passenger side. Everything goes black for a moment, when I come to I see my daughter sitting next to me. My hearing roared, head pounded, but all I could concentrate on was her. She wasn’t moving and for a horrifying moment I knew she was dead.
Do you have children? I don’t suppose that matters, anyone with a heart would understand. I can’t begin to explain how that felt. To have my world upended, to peer into a future only suitable for nightmares…then the gift of a heartbeat. It was measly, but there. The wave of relief that washed over me, it was so welcoming I wept, right then and there. I…
Point is, she is alive.
She woke up four days later. I was sitting next to her hospital bed, flipping through a well-used magazine when she spoke. I’ll never forget our conversation.
“Mom?” she says.
“Yes, dear, I’m here.” I say, I’m holding her hand.
“Mom, where are you?” she asks.
“I’m here, sweetie, I’m right here.” I say again.
“I can’t see you.” She tells me, “I can’t see anything.”
The doctor called it Cortical Visual Impairment, he tells me she’ll never see again. How do you tell your daughter that? How do you hide the terror in your voice?
I would have given the world to be able to comfort her. To have the right words to give her. But what do I say? What can I say to stave off the terror of opening your eyes only finding more darkness? I’d trade all my senses so that she might see again.
But what kills me is the Knowing. Knowing she’ll never bask in the glory of a sunrise, or sunset. She’ll never walk out on a pier and witness a raging ocean. Never see birds take flight, or watch as summer turns to fall or fall turns to winter. She’ll never get lost in the eyes of a lover. She’ll never see spring’s first flowers. Never examine a painting. Never see the Louvre in Paris or take in the awe of the Grand Canyon. She’ll never see her mother’s face.
What kind of God would let a little girl go blind?
She hasn’t once asked me why. I don’t know if that makes it better, or worse.
* * * * *
…she’s been taking classes. Her schooling has changed. A parent is supposed to be able to help their kid with school, but I don’t know how. I thought I’d have at least until high school, when she starts algebra, before I would be stumped by her homework, but this is completely different. I can’t learn brail fast enough.
I’m frustrated to the point of tears, but I can’t show it. I swallow my pride and do my best to help. Smiling instead of frowning when I don’t know an answer. Resting an arm around her shoulders as she moves her hands across the paper. Telling her to try again when the bumps on the page don’t create a word in her mind. Picking up her book when she throws it across the room.
I was convinced this was it. I suppose my fears were twisting inside me. I wasn’t ready to accept that some part of what I saw in the passenger seat that day was actually true. That the beautiful life she deserved died.
Then one day, it was quiet in the house. It’s one of those things only a parent can notice. My mother used to say that silence is the devil scheming. Catholics are always great for dramatic phrasing.
I get up from my work, and walk around the house. Not calling her name thinking perhaps she doesn’t want to be found.
And yet I see her in her room. Sitting on her bed, legs crossed beneath her. Hand running across the page to a book I have never seen. It’s thick. Not a children’s book. She moves slowly, and has to double back several times, but she was reading. Reading. Without my arm around her, without my reassuring voice, without my hand guiding hers over the bumps on the page.
Prayers I refused to speak or even think, out of spite for a spiteful God, had been answered. They were wishes wordless, nothing more than a feeling. A desire. A desperate yearning for my child to find comfort in this dark and lonely world. I’m not as sure as I used to be.
Because in that moment, I could see it: she was free.
And then she smiled. My beautiful little girl smiling not for the world, but for herself. Smiling for what might as well have been the first time. Unaware of the world’s harsh reality, getting lost inside the textured pages resting on her lap.
Smiling. Such a sweet, simple thing.