Her vivacious spirit was evident immediately. In a room filled with parents and their children who were in need of vision correcting cataract eye surgery, she was the one child scurrying around on the floor, bouncing a ball and entertaining her inadvertent audience. Her name was Mary Joy.
Just like the other children in the room suffering from cataracts, Mary Joy’s vision was practically obliterated in her affected right eye. She could see out of her left eye, but that right eye ran around like an unruly pinball. When looking at Mary Joy’s face it was hard not to focus on that right eye. But to focus on that eye was to overlook the beauty captured in Mary Joy’s ear-to-ear smile and the mischievousness expression that so naturally appeared on her face. That expression invited you to engage in combat. With no audible word you could hear her say, “Come on, I dare you.”
Mary Joy’s family was poor. It was not hard to see. While exact living conditions were uncertain, it was likely that she went to sleep every night within a tin shanty. But Mary Joy was too young and too full of life to worry about such matters. Her attitude might have been summed up as “Who cares? I am living life. Try to stop me.”
We were there to witness Mary Joy’s eye surgery. A procedure that would bring her right eye improved focus and vision. It would be dramatic. It was going to be fantastic! When the time came, Mary Joy and her mother went back to see the doctor for the pre-surgery check. This step was necessary as a final inspection of the eye to determine any special procedures necessary in the surgery. Mary Joy was to be sedated after this check and then go into surgery. We waited outside the operating area with the parents of the other children getting their vision correcting cataract removal.
After an hour, word came from the operating area - “deferred.” Mary Joy was seen by the doctor, who determined during the inspection step that her right eye had a detached retina. Any cataract surgery performed on that eye would not correct sight. Mary Joy was blind in her right eye. “Deferred” - a word that I now loathe.
The word from the doctor made our hearts hurt. It all happened so fast it was hard to grasp. I sat in silence thinking about it. Too quickly, Mary Joy and her mother appeared from the operating area. Her mother’s face had that dejected look that one gets when hearing a bad report from the doctor. Mary Joy had that same vivacious smile on her face - a child unaware of the verdict condemning her right eye to darkness. We said goodbye and that little 7 year old girl reached out to me for a hug. I was blessed and torn to pieces all in the same embrace. I smoothed back her hair and said a short blessing over her. I wished I could repair that right eye. But understanding that I could not do it, I prayed to the only One who I knew could.
Mary Joy and I will likely never meet again. I was unable to see her vision corrected. But that little girl was able to give me something I needed - Perspective. If you are going through a tough time, I encourage you, as I will encourage myself to do everyday, to remember Mary Joy. Remember a little girl in Manila, living in poverty, living with a blind right eye. She isn’t complaining. She’s not screaming for pity or fairness. She is living the life she has been given, defining her joy and daring us to join her.
Thank you, Mary Joy.