Jack sank deeper into his seat in the cold train carriage and pulled his hat down over his ears. He and his fellow passengers had been stranded there for several hours already. The steam locomotive and the lead carriage of the overnight express train had jumped the tracks halfway between hell and nowhere. Now all they could do was wait until help arrived. It was 1959, the middle of winter, and the dead of night. No power, no heat, and no light except for a few flashlights that the conductor and some passengers had.
I didn’t appreciate it much when I was younger, but looking back now, I realize the influence my father’s faith in God has had on me. I have fond memories of standing next to his (at the time) towering 6-foot frame, listening to him wholeheartedly singing hymns in church.
My family was from Holland, and my father’s favorite songs were in Dutch. After leaving home and striking out on my own, one particular song would come back to me, especially when I was feeling discouraged or worried. Roughly translated, it goes like this:
Life is full of challenges of many kinds. For some, the most monumental ones present themselves a good ways down the road. In my case, life’s main challenge made itself known shortly after I was born and remains with me to this day. I am blind.
Doctors were never able to determine the exact cause for my blindness, and could do nothing to remedy it, but the impact of this disability was especially painful during childhood. One occasion stands out. I was seven. My family would read to me from the Bible, and I was accustomed to sometimes holding the book in my hands. Then my parents ordered a Braille Bible. Rather than a single volume, my fingers now touched a pile of 18 huge volumes. What’s more, each page had line after line of dots across it. I couldn’t comprehend how these seemingly meaningless dots could in any way be associated with the verses I listened to as my parents read to me from their Bible.
Steve was a cheerful little boy with big brown eyes, curly blond hair, and a dimple that appeared on his right cheek every time he smiled. He had dreamy eyes, and often sat by the window to gaze at the rain, the clouds, or the birds.
“He has been kissed by an angel,” the Japanese midwife had told me with a smile when she first placed the small warm bundle in my arms, pointing out a snow-white streak of hair at the back of his head. “He has a special calling in life.” Over the years, her words often came back to me and I wondered what they meant.
A series of traumatic losses had left me angry at God. Alone, without any means of support, and with no hope in sight, I had tried to end my life. I regained consciousness in a hospital, where I spent the next few days recovering.
It was Valentine’s Day, the first without my husband, and as I sat alone in a hospital lounge, I cried the only tears left in me.
One day Joe broke his arm. They said it was par for the parkour he practiced. Joe was a traceur. He lived in a world that consisted of one giant obstacle course, climbing and leaping, escaping and reaching, vaulting and rolling across his busy cityscape. Joe pushed himself on his runs, sometimes over cars or walls, sometimes across rooftops. Sometimes too far. Destiny watched him from afar, eyeing his toothpick arm and waiting for her chance.
On the morning when he broke his arm, Joe had gone with a couple of friends on a practice run for a home video they were making. A few warm-up moves gave Destiny her chance.
My back ached from sitting so long in the small metal seat of the bus, and my face flushed from the blazing sun that beat on me through the open window. The bus jostled as it followed the dusty road through a half-deserted section of town, where drab, dilapidated houses and fields overgrown with weeds seemed to be a reflection of my life. The last few weeks had been especially stressful as some friends and I struggled to make progress on a new community volunteer project. We had been having more setbacks than successes, and that, coupled with personal problems, had brought a heavy cloud of discouragement over me.
Ben is a white-haired man whose house I pass on my errands route. He always calls out a friendly greeting, and over time we’ve become good friends. His cheerful demeanor and lively personality make him a joy for me to be around, despite our age difference.
Last spring, Ben slipped on a wet bathroom floor, fell backwards, and hit his head hard. The impact brought on a stroke that resulted in recurring dizzy spells and headaches, blurred vision, permanent damage to his left eye, and loss of stamina.