I was listening to a recent archive episode of the podcast “This American Life” the other day. It really captivated me. The narrator recounted the story with her guest, a man named Daniel Kish. Daniel is in his 50s now, but when he was just a toddler, he was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. The only treatment for this was to remove his eyes. He was completely blind. This is something that is very difficult for me to imagine – A world of utter darkness, devoid of light.
Daniel told his story. When he was a boy, he began to learn naturally, without instruction, a unique way to interact with his environment, using only his mouth and ears. He would make a repeated sound – a series of clicks – with his mouth and tongue. He learned something. The character of the reflected sound waves that his ears heard would change depending on the size, shape, and distance of objects in his vicinity. With this knowledge, over time, Daniel was able to navigate anywhere he wanted to go. I was amazed.
Daniel continued. When he was a boy, his mother was determined that her son live life to the fullest. Because of this, she let him play and run around the neighborhood like any normal kid. One day, when he was a little bit older, he learned to ride his bike. Yes, Daniel’s mom bought her blind son a bike. He was out, cruising the streets, making his clicking sounds, when he encountered a hill. Daniel thought it would be a great idea to ride down the hill and see how fast he could go. He went down the hill. Faster and faster, then…whack! He crashed face first into a light pole. “Blood everywhere,” Daniel recalls.
This is the part of the story that really surprised me, and I’m certain would confound many parents – Daniel’s mom did not keep Daniel indoors, where he would be safe and free from harm. Instead, she gave him another bike the following Christmas!!!
Years continued to pass, and Daniel began to climb trees for fun. Other parents were agitated and confused. Why would she let her son encounter this danger?! He may fall, be injured, or worse – he could even die!
The story continues. Years later, a group of neuroscientists happened upon Daniel’s story. They began to study him. At one point, they had rigged up an fMRI machine to monitor Daniel’s visual cortex, the part of the brain that all of us people with eyes use to SEE. They had rigged up a salad bowl on a rope and were swinging it around, and you know what…Daniel’s visual cortex lit up like a Christmas tree. The researchers could see the motion of the salad bowl move across the screen. He was making noises with his mouth, and listening to the sounds, and he could see – really SEE – the salad bowl moving around in space. Researchers were amazed by this. Now, Daniel cannot see colors or textures, but he has access to a very accurate 3D representation of his surroundings, gained through many years of navigating his various surroundings while playing outside.
The podcast ends with Daniel leading the narrator on a walk into the woods. Dusk is falling, and they happen upon a very tall tree. Daniel begins to climb. The narrator, Lulu, follows. They keep going – 30, maybe 40 feet up. Lulu begins to feel scared. Here she is, deep in the forest. They have been walking for hours, and darkness is falling. How will they be able to find their way home? But then she remembers, it is Daniel who will be leading them home, and for him, there is no such thing as darkness. The podcast concludes.
I believe in the Garden, mankind became blind – our eyes marred with the cancer of sin. Maybe, just maybe, God wants us to see again. Maybe He decided to open the front door and encourage us to get out there and play. Maybe he gives us a bicycle to ride around the neighborhood, knowing that we are going to crash face-first into a streetlight eventually. Maybe after that happens, and we wreck our bike, He gets us another bike, and encourages us to keep riding. Maybe when we are walking with him, and the sun is setting, and we come upon an old oak tree, He says “Climb away,” knowing all too well that we may fall and be seriously injured. Maybe, just maybe, God allows us to experience injury – a lost job, broken relationships, struggling finances, disease, because He wants us to see, really SEE again. Maybe he has been opening the front door and saying “go play,” knowing that we may come back battered and bruised, but also knowing that we may regain our vision, and live in a world without darkness – filled with His glory and His majesty.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see.”