We knew this moment would come.
Throughout the pandemic, our family has been watching Little House on the Prairie. It has in many ways been a cathartic experience, watching the Ingalls family with all of its struggles persevere through no shortage of difficult times.
While the book has been subject to recent criticisms, the television series from my youth has held up remarkably well – tackling issues of poverty, race, Native American relations with nuance and compassion largely unseen today. There was even a prescient episode where a virus rips through Walnut Grove. It is only through their solidarity and sacrifice that they are able to survive.
This is a recurring theme throughout the show. While each of the characters display grit and hard work, the role of community in overcoming adversity is central. The term social capital wasn’t en vogue then but it is hard to argue that all in Walnut Grove was rich with it.
For all the trials and tribulations the Ingalls family faced, one loomed larger than most. Our children had read the books, my wife and I had watched the series, and yet we all still dreaded the eventual episode where Mary Ingalls, the oldest and perhaps purest of the children, would lose her sight and go blind.
So there it was last week, the two-part episode titled: “I’ll be waving as you drive away” popped up in our queue and we watched it as a family.
As the joke goes, there was a lot of pollen in the air in our living room, as dry eyes were hard to find. The scene when Pa has to tell his daughter she is going blind will move you to tears as you contemplate ever having to deliver that kind of news to a loved one. The scene when Mary wakes up to discover that she has gone completely blind will rip your heart out.
Screaming for her father to come, she is frightened by the darkness that will be her new reality. Calling on him to hold her tighter and tighter, she is devastated by what is lost and will never be found again.
In reflecting on this episode, I began to think of my own proverbial blindness. My fear in accepting those things I’ve lost and will never regain or confronting the darkness in my character that manifests in certain biases that I prefer to dismiss rather than see.
We are all blind in our own way. Unwilling to see those things about ourselves, our family, our society that we don’t like. Afraid, like Mary, to accept this reality – to confront our darkness.
The second part of this episode shows Mary finally coming to terms with her situation. The self-pity, low self-worth, embarrassment and shame eventually replaced with new perspective, confidence and purpose.
This transformation comes largely from learning from others who have gone through her similar journey and were willing to be vulnerable in sharing.
Literally and perhaps ironically, it was the blind leading the blind, that eventually allowed Mary to see.
The moral of this story, I suppose, is the need for us to all share our blindspots – and to not be met with shame, embarrassment or worst denial. Rather to do it with the idea that it will be the only way we can all see our way out of the challenges that face us.
We knew this moment would come.