May 28, 2004

“Go forth, my child, and sin no more.”

One of the problems with being (even an armchair) historian, especially one of the biblical periods, is the parallels you see in everyday life. A tragic moment has you whispering, “Gesthemene”... a triumph has you quoting psalms. Being a Buddhist just makes it worse... now you're weird and incomprehensible. But I couldn't help it, as I watched it.

“Go forth, my child, and sin no more.”

We weren't in a Catholic church, we weren't on the banks of the Jordan. We weren't even in one of those sad plastic built-in bathtubs you find in small protestant churches all over middle America. We were in a “Lasik+” eye surgery clinic. My wife had just experienced a miracle so fundamental it appears no fewer than seven times in the synoptic gospels.

My wife was blind, but now she could see. We had, in a matter of minutes, just been baptized into the Church of Humanistic Science.

“I'm sorry, what?!?

Ok, the thing with Ellen is, she loves drama. The people who say that's an Italian stereotype have never actually lived with an Italian, even one three generations removed from mama Italia. In this particular case, all I really knew was she had contacted our mortgage lender to ask if we could perhaps get our monthly payments reduced. Now I knew, as I watched her on the phone, that something had happened. I just wasn't sure what.

And you don't ask. If you ask, it goes like this:

Me: “What do you mean, what... what's going on?!?”

Ellen: [throwing hands down, like she's slapping an annoying toddler. The look in her eye says the toddler is, of course, me.]

Me: “No, really... what's going on?!?”

Ellen: [rolls eyes, puts phone on shoulder], “what the fuck is your problem?!? Can't you see I'm on the phone?!?”

So, like the well-trained spouse of an Italian American Yankee that I am, I wait patiently. Peasants do not demand information from Their Empress. Their Empress will bequeath knowledge to them as it is required, and not before.

The phone is hung up. This being opera, we can't just start talking, we must wait until the overture is done, the applause faded to the background.

Ellen: “You remember when I asked about lowering our mortgage payment?”

Scott: [like I said, you can almost hear the aria] “um... yes?”

Ellen: “Not only are we getting a lower mortgage, we're getting all our credit card debt paid off. But that's not the best part...”

Swear to God, we really do talk like this. It's like living inside a TV drama. Me, knowing better than to interrupt the aria with a B sharp: “What's the best part?”

Ellen: “We're going to get ten thousand dollars!”

A different time, a different place, a woman sitting beside me in the car only known as “she who shall remain nameless” in my current household. We cash our Pizza Inn paychecks at the Safeway because we can't afford a bank account. We drive two blocks down the street and pull to the side of the road in a convertible more rust than metal, the summer sun beating down on a quiet residential street. Out of the fistfull of cash I've been carrying in one hand, I start handing greenbacks over. “Now, that's one-two-three hundreds for the rent, one-two hundreds for the car, one-two-three twenties for the power and gas... what's left?”

You've come a long way, baby... I couldn't help but think as Ellen and I walked through the door of the clinic. Plain, garden variety office, except along one wall was nothing but glass, behind it a cross between a dentist's office and a hair salon. Except everyone here would lie down.

He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.

No lab coat here, the doctor wore a simple button-down shirt and slacks. The balding head made him all too human, his two angels done up weirdly in the baggy purple cotton scrubs so familiar to me in my own life with another sort of nurse.

Ellen wasn't first. That honor went to what seemed to be an Indian or Pakistani man accompanied by a very elegant lady who turned out to be his sister.

”I just got this done Wednesday”, she whispered to me, behind the Terminator sunglasses that marked those who didn't wish to harm the miracle they'd been gifted. Whispered from the chair beside me, even though we were separated from the doctor by perhaps two inches of tempered glass, “he wouldn't have done it if I hadn't... I had to drive him here myself!”

And what an amazing thing it was. Not only did you have a student's view of the operating theater, but mounted on the far wall was a television set that allowed you to see exactly what the surgeon was seeing. Two eyelid clamps was all it took to turn a human eye into an abstract thing, more fried egg than visual organ.

An incomprehensibly large piece of hardware, probably in real life no more than finger-sized, was set over the eye, and only as you saw two hands very carefully twisting a knurled knob sideways did you realize what it was for. Sure enough, once the device was removed a tiny clamp delicately moved a piece of the eye aside, like you pull the wrap off a microwave dinner. A few disco-lights later, and it was done. A repeat of the procedure, and all was finished.

”Go forth, my child, and sin no more.”

I wasn't sure I caught it the first time. The only thing I really knew was someone who had probably worn glasses their whole life walked out with a slightly sheepish look, holding in their own hands, gingerly, the glasses that were once a vital part of their lives, now cradled by an adult like they'd discovered a stuffed animal in the attic of their childhood home, after their parents had passed away.

And then it was Ellen's turn. Because of a quirk of biology, she had to utilize a different, older procedure that would preserve more of her cornea, but at the cost of considerably more discomfort. This time, there would be no peeling back of a cellophane cover. Instead, a saline wash pushed aside a light pudding scum fried off by a miracle of science. Repeated exactly once, and it was done. This time, though, I was watching for it.

”Go forth, my child, and sin no more.”

I have never worn glasses in my whole life. I really have no concept of how important such devices can become if they, and they alone, enable the basic human need to see. Living with this onerous burden of a powerful but at the same time fragile construct for three quarters of a lifetime is something I can't even begin to understand.

Or so I thought, until I witnessed two different people, one of whom I knew intimately, suddenly freed of this burden. In the time it takes you to eat a meal, they were transformed from a limping cripple to someone free to run down the sunset. Someone who could wake up and see their child smile without bits of glass in the way. It was, almost literally, beyond my ken.

”Go forth, my child, and sin no more.”

As Westerners, particularly as Americans, we're taught to envy the savage. In a world ruled by cold machines and cold logic and cold, cold fate, we all too often mindlessly put on a pedestal those who have more faith than knowledge, live closer to nature than to science, who worship “no God but God.”

To them I can only say I witnessed, first hand, a primary miracle. Not the miracle of talking to someone on the other side of the world in an instant, not the miracle of traveling faster than the fastest horse, but of the miracle most basic to the human condition. I witnessed a blind person suddenly able to see.

And, unlike so many other sorts of miracles, this one was hard-won by human hands, human minds, human hearts. Tested and tested and re-tested until all the miracle was bled out of it, and people simply wondered how they could save the money for it, instead of wondering at the miracle it was.

I long ago ceased being impressed by the power of a single book, the power of a school, the power of a midrasa, to teach a human being how to be. That God died when I saw His power used for destruction, to slay innocents in the name of a simple, vengeful, powerless being so weak only the death of thousands could attempt to resurrect Him.

Today I saw instead God's real face. The face of humans who stopped long ago trusting what old men insisted was right and instead chose to use the faculties bequeathed to them by a deity, a power, a universe, that wanted nothing more than to build something that could, under its own steam, comprehend it. As grandiose as that seems, it was manifest to me in that simple waiting room, watching someone who feared life without glasses suddenly freed from their shackles.

”Go forth, my child, and sin no more.”

Posted by scott at May 28, 2004 08:56 PM

eMail this entry!

Amazing Grace!

Posted by: Pat on May 28, 2004 11:30 PM

*Clap, Clap, Clap*

Very well written. Cindy will probably be going thru the same thing soon (And eventually I guess I will have to as well)

Congrats Ellen

Posted by: Jeff on May 29, 2004 08:50 AM

It was an *experience* I'd have to say, but SO worth the pain and discomfort. Let me know if you want a free evaluation at the center(s). They gave me a bunch of coupons to pass along. :)

Posted by: Ellen on May 29, 2004 02:49 PM

I'm going to do this next year hopefully. I can't wait to ditch the glasses and contacts! Congrats!

Posted by: Dianne on May 29, 2004 03:13 PM

The brilliant piece by Scott, "Go forth, my child, and sin no more", was a brilliant satire (I think anyway) of how modern science is so often not given the acknowledgement of 'miracles in its own right' for its marvellous achievements. Its ability to give sight back to the poorly sighted (if not, the virtually blind) being just one example.

But I couldn't help but noticing an undercurrent of scepticism in this that seemed to imply that all of Christ's miracles could be - or indeed can be - explained by simply scientific means. It is, of course, an extremely complex subject in this respect (the old adage 'never discuss politics or religion' in a pub, seeming to apply here), but I got the impression by reading somewhere - I think from Scott himself - that he is not too inclined to accept the metaphysical in general. (If I got this wrong, then I must say sorry.)

Ironically, perhaps, I do not disagree with Scott in any way (and I do not think it would be right to go into possible view-points about the miracles of Jesus), but although not disagreeing with him (in the event I might have missed the point), what I personally 'disagree' with in general is interruption many people seemingly put upon the very word "God".

I am not even talking about the possible existence of such a Being in the 'Divine' sense; more so, of how the human race in general (whatever their differing Creeds or beliefs) have turned such an entity, by reference to self-created man-made ideals and beliefs, into what amounts to a 'material devil'.

"Onward Christian soldiers, as if marching off to war"; "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth"; and the endless prayers a particular warring party might offer (unless they be Communists, of course) for 'God' to 'go before them' and 'help them destroy their respective enemies', being just preliminary examples. The list is really endless in this very material and 'God-forsaken' world!

I have frequently been asked, in fact, whether or not I 'believe in God'. My answer has always been the same. "Yes", yet "no".

"Yes" in that there must surely have been some Divine Principe in the Universe that brought us all into existence in the first place. "No" in the respect that I do not accept the 'man-made' "God" that has been invented only to cater for very human fears or to provide some abstract concept for human security. Unfortunately, that IS the 'God' that most people have come to accept (whatever their particular Creeds or religious denominations); but that does not mean that this belief can give such a Being any substance in Reality.


Posted by: David Farrant on May 29, 2004 05:08 PM

I'm so glad that you are able to ditch the glasses. As someone who has worn corrective lenses for 37 years, and has worse than 20/800 uncorrected vision, I know it must be fabulous!

Posted by: bogie on May 30, 2004 07:19 AM

GO ELLEN! I've wanted to have this done for quite awhile now but haven't been able to part with the cold, hard, dineros because I'm somewhat cheap. (Okay, after seeing the rocks that I just bought, not that cheap...). And congrats to Scott - great essay. I've been in the same place as you (to some extent, never got to watch) and witnessed miracles. Considering some of the research that I've done, I've seen some interesting things along the lines of which you speak. I've inserted pieces of viruses into a cell (specifically, a promoter from the herpes II virus, coupled with the luciferase gene, and put both into cervical cancer) just to test the efficacy of the on/off switches in our DNA. I've done other even wierder stuff and heard of more. Basically, if god is a society's way of explaining the unknown, I'd be a god in ancient times (it'd help if I had a full lab or access to the internet in the background helping me produce stuff, but still...). We are coming close to the ability to actually engineer complete organisms (give it 20 years or so). Therefore, I agree with you - church of the humanistic science.

Posted by: Ron on May 30, 2004 11:36 AM

Ron, that's really nifty. I just took a molecular bio class and learned a little bit about that stuff. Is there an online abstract you could link to?

Posted by: Sherri on May 30, 2004 05:55 PM

Ron, I heard about the rocks! Congrats to both of you.

Posted by: Pat on May 30, 2004 11:54 PM

Congratulations! My biggest fear is losing my eyesite, and I've hated having to get glasses so that I can read.
(loved the way you wrote that Scott!)

Posted by: witchy on May 31, 2004 12:54 PM

unfortunately, no. it was part of one of my classes. I can tell you that the promoter in the herpes II virus works incredibly well. the expression of the luciferase marker gene was significantly higher than either a TAATAA box or no promoter at all - to the extent that I had to graph the whole thing logarithmically to get it all on a page and be meaningful.

Posted by: Ron on June 1, 2004 07:08 AM

Well said Scott! It still freaks me out (but you're talking to the girl who can't even watch the procedure being done on someone else because I'm too squemish!) but I can't wait to see the results! :o)

Posted by: Dianne on January 14, 2005 04:28 PM

The thing about this one, is no matter how many times I read this....I can HEAR this entire conversation eidetically in my mind!

What the fuck is your problem?!?


Posted by: Mark on August 15, 2006 08:24 AM
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