They did not even try to stop my hearing their words. They spoke loudly and turned in my direction. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
My heart sank. For I knew what was to come. The harsh cold condemnations had been hurled at me many times before. Many times people would ask the question of me, hoping for a confession that I had not to offer.
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this has happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
I didn’t understand his words. I was nonetheless grateful that perhaps he saw suffering as our ancestor Job, but I didn’t yet know how God’s hand could be seen in my dark life other than as the cause. Intrigued, I continued to listen and hoped that he would explain his riddles. He spoke of night and of light, and I wondered what the two must be like. I could note the difference of the shadows when one was present and not the other, but I longed to know true light and to be able to see even in the dark nights.
He had not spoken in a few moments, and I was afraid that maybe he left while my mind had wandered. In the distance, though, I heard shuffling. Suddenly he was standing extremely close to me. Instinctively I took a step back. Who was this man I wondered to myself. The people had called him rabbi, so he must be a man of some importance. I could feel his hands drawing near to my face. He placed cold, wet earth on my lifeless eyes and whispered to me, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.”
He offered no explanation, simply a whisper. I thought it was strange, but I had to wash the mud off somehow. Carrying my stick I felt my way to the edge of the pool and groaned as my knees did not want to bend. The water was warm on my face, and the mud came off easily.
Something was different. Unexpectedly there was a pool of water beneath me. I saw the light reflecting from the surface. I saw the light! I nearly lost my balance and barely managed to save myself from falling into the water. Excitedly, I glanced around trying to take it all in at once. There were lush, green bushes near the water’s edge. Green, what a marvelous color. The water was crystal blue. The golden rays of sunlight covered the land. Stark white clouds littered the sky. People stopped to stare at me, and I gloriously stared right back. There were people of all shapes and sizes. They were all beautiful. They were beautiful beyond description.
The man. I had to find the man who healed me and find out who he was. What had he placed in the mud that made now able to see? Had I now been forgiven of the sin that caused my pain? I collapsed on the ground and wept. My tears were filled with a mix of emotions. How long would these glorious sights before me last? I longed to go throughout the world and gaze upon every wonder. I would never sleep again, for I was afraid forever to be like it was before.
Darkness. Darkness everywhere. Black. Everything black. No light, only shadows. That was the way it had always been. Bright morning rays of sunlight had never awakened the earth. Stark white snow of winter had never covered the ground. Vibrant colors of spring had never swept over creation. Sunrises and sunsets had never illuminated the sky. Stars had never twinkled. The darkness never crept in slowly. The darkness was constant.
Awakening slowly, I yearned to squint from the harshness of the sun’s early rays. Instead I sat up silently and noted by the shifting shadows that it was time to rise. People around me stirred in the beginning of the new day, and I longed to join them.
I could hear the activity around me. In the room directly across from mine, I could hear my mother and sisters diligently preparing breakfast for our large family. My younger brothers and sisters were laughing as they readied themselves for another day of learning. With the absence of my father’s voice I knew he must already be gone to the morning synagogue worship. Sitting still, I listened to each sound and allowed the music of life to grant me vision if but only for a moment.
After sitting still and quiet for some time, I heard my mother yell for me to get up. Grudgingly, I reached for my stick that lay faithfully next to my mattress on the floor. I grasped the familiar worn handle and raised myself from bed. My mother hummed softly this morning as she did every morning, and I followed the notes of her song to the kitchen.
I was always the last to rise. I remember when I was younger. My parents would wake me earlier in the morning. They so wanted me to be well. They strove to make me like the other children. Of course they realized I would have my limitations, but perhaps if they helped me I would learn. Much of those early years were spent in either in the care of a doctor or in the presence of a Pharisee. The doctors would gravely shake their heads and shrug their shoulders. The Pharisees would read quotes from Torah on the generational curses upon families of sin, and the three of us would solemnly leave.
That was many years ago though. Today I was expected to rise and work. I could hear my mother humming next me now, and I could feel the warmth of the oven. My mother took my arm and guided me around my sisters and seated me at the table.
“Good morning my son. How are you feeling this morning?”
“Fine mother. Thank you for the breakfast. Do you have a lunch prepared for me as well? I think I will out all day today. I don’t think I will limit my begging today to the temple grounds. Perhaps I will go over to the pool. The other outcasts are so friendly.” I trusted that the bitter tone resonated in my voice. I heard my mother stop sharply and sigh deeply.
“The pool of Siloam? That sounds nice. It is a wonderful day out today, and I am sure the water will be refreshing if you are to get hot in the afternoon sun. Would you like me to place an extra loaf of bread in your satchel for your friends on the temple grounds?”
My head sank as her kind words reached my ears. Why must I always blame her? She was as blameless as I was in my blindness. I felt around in the air for her hand for I could tell she was standing near me. I raised my head and smiled. “Yes, mother, that would be nice. Thank you.”
The room was quiet for a moment. Then I heard my sisters’ shuffle their feet. My mother promptly dropped my hand and went back to her duties. I finished my breakfast in silence. I finished quickly, and reached down for my stick once again. I used the edge of the table to raise myself and followed the table around to entrance of the door.
“Good-bye mother. I will be back this evening. I will try and return before nighttime.” I headed out the door and felt the warmth of the sun on my face. I thought about what it must be like to have my open eyes greeted by the rays of the sun. I would never know.
Most of the people in our village never spoke to me. They were afraid because they believe our family had sinned against God in some way. They also held against me the fact that I was a beggar. They knew my family had enough money to provide for my care, but still I insisted on begging for money. They did not understand that I had to do something to make a contribution. It wasn’t for the welfare of my family, but for my sanity.
So this morning I headed to the temple grounds. It was a busy location for cripples, beggars, and poor people. For some reason we believed the people coming and going from the temple would be more sympathetic to our plight than passer-byes on the road. I had chosen a route that I walked each day. It was free of large obstacles, and there were a few people along the way that would speak to me. My faithful stick guided me well down the crowded early-morning streets.
“Good morning! Watch where you swing that stick now boy. Glad to see that you haven’t lost your way this morning. I sure would hate to see you end up in the pool like that one time.” I heard the familiar voice and felt a hand on my shoulder.
Smiling, I replied, “That was years ago Steven. Will you ever let me forget? And I have not gotten lost since I was a child. But perhaps since you persist in recalling my shames, I should swing my stick in your direction. How are you this morning? Is business going well?”
“Ah, business is well. Many crowds have roaming through the area in the last few months. It has been nice to have new faces in the shop. The extra business has also helped around the house. My youngest boy is old enough to be sent to school now. We have chosen to place him with a friend of ours who is a scribe in the neighboring village. There he would only have to provide for his needs. There would be no charge for his schooling. It is sad and exciting at the same time.”
“Your youngest? I feel as if I am getting very old all of a sudden. Why have you chosen your scribe friend instead of one of the local schools?”
“We do not see a need for him to learn all the other subjects. We would like for him to focus on the Torah and learn from someone we trust.”
“Well God’s blessings be with you and your family. I will be happy to share the news with my family this evening when I return.”
Suddenly a man from the shop next door came out onto the street. “Steven, get that blind beggar off the sidewalk! Someone will think I have befriended this sinner as you have, and I will lose business. God will curse you, Steven, for welcoming this transgressor.” I heard the bell above his shop door ring loudly in the awkward silence, and then I heard his door slam.
“Well, Steven, I have worn out my welcome once again. I shall add it to my list of sins that keeps this darkness around me. I must go. Good luck with your son, and do please keep our family informed of his progress.” He patted me on the shoulder before returning to his shop. I continued my walk down the street.
I was nearing the temple now. I could feel people pressing me from every side. The noise was deafening. I pushed my way through the multitude until I felt hand land on the wall of the temple. I followed the wall around the corner. After turning the corner, I counted out twenty steps away from the wall and sat down.
“Good morning our blind friend. Did you bring breakfast from your beloved mother again?” Yes, I had found my friends. I always harbored a sense of pride when I made my way through town.
I reached into my satchel and allowed the smell of fresh-baked bread to answer their inquiry. The three of them grappled over the pieces. I threw the loaf into their midst and listened to their arguing.
“There are so many here on the temple grounds this morning, and it is yet so early in the day. Have you had any luck with the newcomers.”
I barely understood the muffled response I received. I felt a crumb of bread hit my chin as I was answered. “There are so many new faces in the crowd today. They are all so busy. I don’t know what they are here for. I catch phrases of excited talk among small clusters, but I do not understand their words. They rush about, and we are luck to receive a small kicking as they trip over us.”
“Sounds like I have missed out on much excitement. I don’t like the large crowds though. I think I will head over to the pool. It seems it will be a warm afternoon, and I would like to be near the cool water.”
“Good luck fighting the crowds blind boy! Hit them with your stick if they get in your way.”
As I used my stick to lift myself from the ground, I heard the jeers of agreement. They were all yelling ideas to me of all that I could do with my stick to make my way through the crowd. I waved goodbye and assured them I would carry their unspoken gratitude home to my mother. I counted twenty steps back to the temple wall and reached out my hand. It was a rough surface and scratched my hand as I walked along. It took me much longer to meander my way around the people. They hovered over every square inch of the grounds. I wondered what they were all doing here.
The walk to the pool was harder than I had anticipated and I stopped halfway there for a break. The crowds had cleared, and I relished the quieter atmosphere. I sat down on the ground. The sun was beating harshly today. I could feel beads of sweat trickling down my body. I sat by myself allowing my mind to wander for several minutes. I stood to finish my walk to the pool when I heard some people approaching. I stopped and stood still. I knew they were staring at me. They did not even try to stop my hearing their words. They spoke loudly and turned in my direction. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
The Pharisees summoned the man who had been born blind. They were curious to know about the one who healed him. He had performed this act on the holy Sabbath. They spoke to him saying, “Give glory to God. We know the one who healed you must be a sinner.”
He paused for a moment, studying the brightly decorated costumes of the men questioning him. There were so many colors. Colors he had never heard of before. He thought of how to answer these men.
“Listen to me once more,” he stated. “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see!”