Second grade. I was sitting in the glass-windowed office with my “special” teacher, a nice lady with a large-print typewriter. I was learning how to type while class after class of curious kids passed by my zoo window on their way to gym class. Wishing I was anywhere else—even sitting on a volcano—I imagined each student was thinking, “What’s that weird kid doing?” And the pretty girls with ponytails…! Were they discovering that the Zoo-Kid From Room 7 was different? That he couldn’t see well?
Probably most of the passers-by were just thinking about dodgeball. But in my mind, being different was my curse. It was a big, ugly, immovable dragon that sat between me and what my heart desired.
Didn’t they know that I couldn’t help it, that I was born this way? Mom and Dad had discovered sometime before my fifth birthday that I had a severe congenital vision problem—actually, a complex of problems. It was completely stable, thank God. The condition wasn’t causing further degeneration of my vision. But I couldn’t see the blackboard. I had no color perception and was immobilized by bright sunlight. Sunglasses helped, but what self-respecting kid in 1957 had to wear sunglasses at recess? I didn’t look cool like James Dean. I looked and felt weird.
Fast forward sixty years… Do I still feel like I’m different? Yes. My eyesight is about the same. Just yesterday in our synagogue office I mistook a male intern for our female administrator at a mere 30 paces. How embarrassing! But I feel differently now about the things that marginalized me as a child.
Being a Messianic Jewish person is also inherently a marginalizing experience. But there have been so many wonderful blessings that have come from this way of life, like nearly fifty years of marriage to the world’s most wonderful woman, plus a doctoral degree and a couple of master’s degrees. (So what if I couldn’t see the blackboard in Miss Lee’s class as a child? They don’t use blackboards in grad school!) And to top it off, my wife and I have four fabulous children who have each married and given us a gaggle of adorable grandchildren, and they all love wrestling with Grandpa. Then there is my jazz flute biz, Flute-To-Go, which gives me such joy, and there are all the fabulous people at the synagogue I’ve served for the past 38 years here in the Boston area. I’m at a place now where I’m grateful to be so blessed, and I count all the marginalizing experiences among my blessings.
In the months ahead, I’m going to share with you some of the life lessons I have gleaned as a legally blind Messianic Jewish grad school president and rabbi. I want to tell those of you who have dragons to battle how you can beat those creatures, despite your limitations. I want to tell you about God and Messiah and how the Messianic Jewish perspective can make all the difference for you, as it has for me.
If you write back to me, c/o The Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, I would ask only one thing: please put your letter in large font! ☺
Meanwhile, check out our website at MJTI.org. Ours is one very special school!
This is the first article in a six-part series. For the next installment, click here.
This post was written by Dr. Rich Nichol, President of MJTI.