A blessing of blindness

Ken Joblin 2005

by Ken Joblin

A daily experience for me is to be driven around Christchurch as I go about my life as a blind person. Many of those who drive me have come to New Zealand in more recent years. They have come for a better life. Some have escaped war-torn countries or densely populated cities, many have had to leave their families, all have great hope in the future here for their children. Big sacrifices have been made and, as they arrive here, we are as foreign to them as they are to us. As they grow in confidence, they begin to interact with us and, as our own experience of humanity is broadened, we too open up to them. After a while, it is no longer “us and them”.

I’ve grown to know a number of Chinese drivers. I have said to them that if only others of my ethnic background could get to know them in the way I have, there would not be the fear that “the Chinese are taking over”. Rather, my own friends would be impressed to see the level of kindness I receive from these drivers. Such is my relationship with my Chinese friends, I have found myself defending them when people of my own kind express their fears about them. As we’ve driven to various destinations together, we discuss the problems facing immigrant communities and what
it is like for New Zealand as it grows to become a more open society.

When the Kaikoura earthquake occurred, my Chinese friend was among the first to check on me. I told him not to worry about me, but to look after his own family. He replied that I am part of his family.

My family lives in the North Island and so, on Christmas Day, after playing the organ at Mass here, I am always off
to the airport.

It is not easy to get a cab on Christmas Day. One of my Chinese drivers, though not on duty himself, has taken me to the airport at no cost to me and at the cost of kindness and respect from him and some inconvenience to his family.

These drivers know I take God seriously and I know they have high ethical standards and want to be good citizens,
good neighbours, good friends.

My taxi travel has had me sitting beside members of the Islamic community here in Christchurch. They have picked me up from outside churches, which has led to conversations about faith. The first thing we do is show respect for each other as people of prayer, for whom God
is at the centre of our lives. We acknowledge how important it is for people of faith to work together in a country that
seems to want to live without God.

I have never been inside a mosque, but my own situation has allowed me to spend time with people who are outside
my experience. If I was capable of driving my own car, I would not have this opportunity.

On Friday, March 15, I had just finished teaching 25 children from Sacred Heart, Addington, the opening bars of Mendelssohn’s “Lift Thine Eyes”. I was explaining what that psalm means as we look to the hills, “from whence cometh
our help?” In this translation of the psalm, the words are “Our help cometh even from the Lord, who made heaven
and earth”. It was necessary to explain this older English as most of this choir come from the Philippines. At twenty
to two, I was explaining that we look to the sky when we are praying to God in heaven.

I left Addington at 2.45pm, returning to the city. Unbeknown to me, I had narrowly escaped a lockdown. I was with my top Chinese driver and we were both perplexed at the number of police cars speeding past us. His taxi computer informed him of the critical incident taking place in Deans Avenue. As we came down Moorhouse Avenue, we could see a big group of people just standing there and police going in different directions. As it became clearer that an attack on a mosque was taking place, I was grateful to be driven to the
safety of my own home.

My Chinese friend rang today (Saturday, March 16) to check on me. He was worried about me going to Mass. When I asked why, he said that it might be dangerous because it would be a group of mostly white people together which
might make us a target should anyone strike out in anger after what happened yesterday. I said it was important for
people to be together at times like this. He also told me his father had rung from China, and among other things, had asked after my welfare. I have never met his father, so was very touched by that. When the lives of people intertwine
through shared experience, we no longer extol distinction, but simply enjoy each other’s company.

In travelling with a driver, I have to place my life into their hands. I have entrusted them with the ultimate responsibility, my life. I have not been let down. On Good Friday we sing the psalm refrain “Father, I put my life in
your hands”. If I can place my life into the hands of another human being, surely I can do so with my Father in heaven.
After all, my help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Lent, 2019, is indeed a very dark time here in Christchurch. We have seen the evil which comes from a distorted view
of humanity.

There must surely be some good to come from this evil.

Might it be a new respect for faith in New Zealand? Might it be an opportunity for the insularity which comes from
a strong adherence to a faith to open out and encounter others? Will there be insight once the immediate emotional
response subsides? Is it a warning to us not to allow ourselves to live in a Facebook echo chamber or in a religious ghetto? Do we need to re-discover the joy of finding out something new and different and in making ourselves vulnerable, that others gain a new insight into the
goodness of God?

Ken Joblin edits Inform, a publication
of the Christchurch diocese. He is also its
diocesan sacred music advisor.

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