A lot of people, dozens of them, possibly hundreds, have said things to me that begin with the phrase "I can't imagine...". In case you are wondering, that is not a phrase of comfort. It is not reassuring to know that others cannot put themselves in your shoes. And I do not say this with rancor. It's just a useful piece of information. To tell the truth, I can't imagine it either.
There was a movie, some time back. It came to mind when I was on the retreat that wasn't, before the horror of the last ten days. I don't remember why it found its way into my prayer, but it did.
The movie is about a young man born blind who is given the opportunity to see, thanks to a radical new treatment or surgery. In the end, his vision fades and and he is left blind once again, with the added burden of knowing what he has lost. If I recall correctly, it is in that final circumstance that the main point if the movie is found: that deprivation is all the more terrible to the extent that we know and understand what it is that we are missing.
What I suddenly remembered about the movie last week, an out-of-the-blue memory of a movie I haven't thought about since I saw it -- what? 25 years ago? -- is what happens to the young man when he is first able to see:
Jagged and seemingly unrelated fragments of light, of color, of shape, of dimension. He thinks that he is going insane. Having never seen anything at all before, he has no capacity for the organization of visual stimulii. He does not know what a tree, or a street block, or a person, looks like. He does not know what it means for something to "look like." Bombarded by all that sighted persons unconsciously filter and coalesce into wholes that make sense, he is almost overcome by confusion and anguish.
That's what this exerience is like.
Trying to find a way to absorb the unexpected, the unthinkable, the unknowable.