By Claire Blatchford, Art by Deborah Koff-Chapin
Shortly after the election I felt the need to reconnect with someone I admire, someone whose way of being in the world has always been an inspiration to me. I’ve actually never met this man in person—only through his writings—yet regard him as a close friend.
Jacques Lusseyran may also be familiar to some of you. He is best known for his book And There Was Light. He was born in Paris in 1924 and became totally blind from an accident when eight years old. Yet he discovered early on as a child that, although he couldn’t see in the usual way with his physical eyes, he could still see. And this “seeing” could grow, expand, and move in different directions. Here is how he describes the start of this discovery in his memoir:
I began to look more closely, not at things, but at a world closer to myself, looking from an inner place to one further within, instead of clinging to the movement of sight toward the world outside.
Immediately the substance of the universe drew together, redefined and peopled itself anew. I was aware of a radiance emanating from a place I knew nothing about, a place that might as well have been outside me as within. But radiance was there, or, to put it more precisely, light. It was a fact, for light was there.
I felt indescribable relief, and happiness so great it almost made me laugh. Confidence and gratitude came as if a prayer had been answered. I found light and joy at the same moment, and I can say without hesitation that from that time on light and joy have never been separated in my experience. I have had them or lost them together.
I saw light and went on seeing it though I was blind.
This may sound rather poetical to you-- Jacques’ writing is full of poetry—but for me, when I was 28 and first read of his different way of “seeing”—his words were more than merely lyrical, they rang true. I, myself, am not blind but am profoundly deaf. Like Jacques I lost my hearing suddenly at a young age and began my journey into the discovery that there are many ways of hearing even if one’s physical ears are damaged. The larger discovery, though, was that I, too, found confidence and gratitude in the “radiance” Jacques describes. I was unable to name this radiance, this light, as he did till much later in my life. We can know and yet not know something-- and when I first read his book -- my immediate response was, “Yes, I am pretty sure I know what he’s talking about!” This is why I go back to his words, and the way he lived out his understanding of and connection with light, that light which can be found within each and all of us, and especially when the darkness feels pronounced. As it does now in these confusing times.
In his book Jacques describes being able to “see” objects by way of the inner light. Because of it he was able to find his way not only around his home and the neighborhood he lived in, but when walking in the mountains as well. The light stimulated other forms of seeing within him. For example, in his home or neighborhood, the felt sense of familiar objects around him, their placement, the spaces between them and their light-- for all that is incarnated has light-- enabled him to “see” and thus to move with confidence. When in the mountains an even deeper seeing was awakened in such a way Jacques could instinctively see the rise and fall of the land. He struggled to explain this seeing to his best friend who had normal eyesight:
The reality—the oneness of the world—left me in the lurch, incapable of explaining it, because it seemed obvious. I could only repeat: “There is only one world. Things outside only exist if you go to meet them with everything you carry in yourself. As to the things inside, you will never see them well unless you allow those outside to enter in."
Especially helpful to me was Jacques’ discovery that, if he was angry or fearful, in short wasn’t attuned to the light, he had great difficulty, stumbled, banged into things, was unable to find his way. He showed me how I can become altogether deaf when I’m out of sorts, lacking in gratitude, oblivious to the radiance in the world and myself.
When Jacques was fifteen, Paris was invaded and the German occupation began. A year later, with a few close friends, he formed and headed an underground resistance movement of six hundred youths. Because of what his comrades called his “sense of human beings” Jacques was chosen to interview all recruits. He could “see” into men, could see the light or the dark of the thoughts they held in their hearts. Being able to use this seeing for the good of his country guided him day by day.
I was madly happy to be doing this work, to have men in front of me, to make them speak out about themselves, to induce them to say things they were not in the habit of saying because these things were set too deep in them—suddenly to hear in their voices the note above all others, the note of confidence. This filled me with assurance that was very like love. Around me it drew a magic circle of protection, a sign that nothing bad could happen to me. The light that shone in my head was so bright, and so strong that it was like joy distilled. Somehow I became invulnerable.
From there Jacques’ story took him into Buchenwald after the one man he was uncertain about was recruited, and later betrayed Jacques and his comrades to the Nazis. That he came out alive-- though mere skin and bones-- and went on to become husband, father, university professor and writer was a testament to the Light within.
I hope at this point that I don’t sound as though I’m just writing a review of a book which is both luminous and incredibly suspenseful. What became clear to me as I tracked down my heavily underlined copy is how very important the admiration connection is right now. It’s said we become what we admire. In this time of ugly words, thoughts and deeds I feel the need like a hunger: to draw close to the enlightened words, thoughts and deeds of those I admire —here and on the other side too.
Jacques’ discoveries as a blind man not only helped me make sense of my discoveries as a deaf woman, helping me to connect with the essential wholeness that is within everyone of us even if physically different or chronically ill, they showed how we can be blind and deaf in more ways than the physical. The conditions we are in can blind and deafen us to the light within and without. Jacques’ message is more relevant now than ever: And There IS Light!
How are you finding Hope these days and kindling the Light within? Please email responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.