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Adversity is in the eye of the beholder

Sometimes we only learn to see after the lights go out

Imagine that you woke up this morning to discover that you’d lost your eyesight? What would that do to your life? How would it affect your relationships? Imagine that you were a photographer, or a pilot, or designer – what would become of your career?

If you watched this week’s edition of 60 Minutes, you already know the story of the heroic everyman who faced the unimaginable and blasted through it without even breaking stride.

At age 45, Chris Downey went in for surgery to remove a tumor adjacent to his optic nerve. The surgery succeeded, but two days later the California architect found himself in total darkness.

It took only one month before Chris was back at his job. He found an embossing printer that produced architectural plans in raised, tactile lines. He figured out how to fashion models with bendable wax sticks. He discovered that his loss of sight made him more aware of acoustics and texture, which led him to create innovative designs that assist the handicapped in ways sighted people never even notice.

More than anything, Chris Downey projects an irrepressible excitement and optimism that almost make a you feel like vision is a kind of disability. “I’m absolutely convinced,” he says, “I’m a better architect today than when I was sighted.”

That’s an extraordinary testimony after a trial most of us shudder to even contemplate.


Is there anything unusual about hiring a personal trainer to push you to the limits of performance and endurance so that your body will grow stronger? In the same way, the obstacles that test us as we go through life force us to grow morally and spiritually stronger as we call on ourselves to meet and conquer them.

The Hebrew word for test, or trial, is nisoyon, derived from the word neis, meaning “miracle.” Without tests and challenges, the stifling familiarity of habit and expectation convinces us that what we’ve done is good enough, that what we have is as good as it gets, that what we’ve become is the best we can hope for.

But what happens when circumstances demand more from us? Don’t we find that the impossible suddenly becomes possible, that the unattainable appears within reach? Unwelcome tribulations summon us to meet new challenges, to draw forth unimagined strength from the reservoir of human potential, to perform miracles of human spirit.

And what if those challenges are clearly beyond us? What of incurable diseases, personal tragedies, and global crises over which we have no control?

Sometimes, victory takes the form of grace and courage in the face of inevitable defeat. Sometimes, what appears in the moment to be defeat gradually reveals itself as a more profound form of victory. And sometimes, the blind learn new ways to see.


The Architect of creation has designed a plan for each and every one of us. To discover it, we have to learn how to look beyond the darkness, listen through the noise, and study the hidden lessons of our lives.

King Solomon says:

I returned and saw under the sun

that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,

neither is there bread to the wise nor riches to men of understanding,

nor yet favor to men of knowledge;

but time and fate will overtake them all.

For those who live “under the sun,” measuring their steps and diminishing their aspiration to the limits of earthly vision, the inevitable disappointments of life will leave them unfulfilled and lamenting their unrealized dreams.

But those who look to the heavens will discover that the inspiring vision of heart and mind will lead them to places they never imagined they would go, prodding them forward to win miraculous victories by force of sheer faithfulness and determination.

Tests are not easy. But the effort required to pass them transforms us from unremarkable creatures of mere flesh and blood into truly heroic spiritual beings.

Published in Jewish World Review

Image U.S. Army photo illustration

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