Awhile back, my friend Tony was consumed by a book project he was working on. He had been reflecting on the nature of sight and shadows after spending a year teaching blind students the art of photography. While looking over the photos, my friend found himself compelled not only by what his blind students had created but also by what it had to say about his own lack of vision.
He asked one student, “How do you not cut off people’s heads in your photos?” The student replied, “I just ask people where they are.” These blind students had learned what we need to learn – how to see deeply by asking questions and listening intently.
The Talmudic word for blindness is sagi nahor. The literal translation is not “blindness” but “great light.” It is as if the rabbis are saying that people become blinded by seeing too much, or too much of the same thing, be it suffering or beauty, pleasure or pain.
In this world of ours, how do we keep our souls from becoming calcified? Can we move the beliefs that we have built up and fortified with our reason, our emotion or our pain? Can we regain our vision, our ability to distinguish? Can we ask those we encounter, “Where are you?”
When we are lucky, we know the comfort of even one person understanding us. And when we are less lucky, we know the vulnerability of being made invisible. I once had a conversation with a homeless man in a shelter. He didn’t start out homeless. In an earlier life he had a successful career in government, but alcohol got the best of him. He explained to me that the hardest part about life on the street was constantly being stepped over, forgotten, ignored.
We diminish the humanity of others by not seeing them, and we diminish our own by letting it happen.
The cure for our blindness, the thing that will remove the cataracts from our souls, is if we direct our hearts to the face of the other before us. If we seek their humanity and stop hiding our own.
Lift up your eyes, and you will see. Listen and you may hear. Direct your hearts. Pay attention. The people who see the deepest know how to look. The people who know how to hear have learned to listen.
The struggle is to let go of our distortions, whether caused by fear or distraction, and seek a higher illumination – to see beyond sight. To see the face of the other.
And then if we look a bit closer at this other who is before us, and closer still, in the white fire and the black fire, we might begin to see the shimmering there, the fine threads binding our lives together.
Words and Drawings by Will Berkovitz
Photo by Joan Morse
Will Berkovitz is CEO of JFS. He and his wife Dr. Lelach Rave, live with their three children in North Seattle. Will is a long-distance runner, avid hiker and backpacker. He particularly enjoys volunteering in the Polack Food Bank and helping with refugee resettlement.
Joan Morse is a JFS Board Member and amateur photographer.