I learned through my own cousins that Cousin Willie was in town. At age 9, I was the youngest of the gaggle of Taylor kids that played in the yard after church. When church ended, there wasn’t the rush to get to a meal. While our parents visited with one another, we played chase, with the church sign being base. And we had our talk as well.
With large families of relatives living nearby, there were more cousins than I could keep up with. But Cousin Willie was one I hadn’t heard about before. Ronnie, Uncle Joe’s son, whispered the initial report to us. Now Uncle Joe, my dad’s brother, was the one who kept us many evenings on the porch wide-eyed with stories about people and strange events - like the woman who woke up from a coma after they’d laid her out for the funeral wake. Uncle Joe straddled the border between our secure domestic lives, and the strange, shady, and dangerous world beyond our parent’s control. So if Ronnie’s report had come from Uncle Joe, I was listening, and already believing.
I heard that Cousin Willie was a hobo. The son of my Great Aunt Ida, he’d run away as a teenager to live life riding the rails. The story was that he survived day to day, seeing the country from a boxcar. His hobo days came to an end however, when he got his foot tangled in a coupling one day, and in a battle with the train for his life, lost his foot. Then Ronnie leaned in to tell us in confidence, “And he’s got a glass eye. He lost his real eye in a knife fight.”
The next Saturday Uncle Joe was bringing Willie out to our little farm for a visit. From all I’d heard, I was somewhat fearful, but also fascinated. In my mind I saw a big, muscular, rough looking guy, with scars and maybe a tattoo, limping on his artificial leg, and staring you down with the “evil eye.” A nine-year-olds mind can be fairly creative.
What I actually saw that Saturday was a old, tall, gaunt man, with a gentle demeanor. He spoke softly and talked with my parents about people I didn’t know. He even talked religion, a familiar topic with my folks. I sat on the brick hearth across the room from him, staring at his eyes, and wondering when and how he took the glass one out to clean it. It would be years before I’d realize that I was the one with the faulty eyes, not Willie.
Cousin Willie didn’t turn out to be the fearful marauder I had imagined. He was just a man, a relative, who still needed family as much as any of us. And I was getting an early lesson on seeing people for who they are – beyond the gossip, behind the stereotypes, and beneath the masks. It’s a lesson I keep learning – we are each fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God who calls us God’s own children – if we but have the eyes to see.
The stories of Jesus have this in common, he saw people not only for who they were, but also for who God intended them to be. He saw beyond their faults, behind their failures, and beneath their fears. He saw them with eyes of love, and that alone brought hope and transformation.
God, keep us from having “glassy” eyes. Eyes that appear to see, but that really comprehend nothing. God, give us your eyes to see your children in our world. Amen.