The presents are wrapped and snuggled under the tree waiting in anticipation for the holiday stampede, and we have a renewed appreciation of old gifts taken for granted. No, not recycled white elephant gifts but a sense of seeing things with fresh eyes. A single moment in time felt for a life.
    We escaped farm duties for a few hours last week. It was a beautiful afternoon as Mark and I were splitting wood. We worked in tandem lifting logs, peeling away small pieces to toss onto the pile in the rock wagon. After the second load, we decided we had enough time to pop into town for Christmas cookies at the bank before we needed to start chores. As we were cleaning up scattered pieces of wood and small logs, our day changed in the blink of an eye.
    I do not know if I saw what happened or just the end reaction and realization of what occurred. All I know is that Mark suddenly had his gloved hands cradling the left side of his head. A small wispy branch on a log was snagged under the wood pile tarp. As Mark tugged on the log, the branch whipped him in the face. He could not close his eyes quick enough. Bits of bark and dirt were embedded in his left eye. I knew it was serious when he did not object to going to the doctor, but he thought maybe we should finish cleaning up and dumping the load of wood by the shed. I reassured him the weather forecast was clear and dry, and we could come back later as I started unhooking the hydraulic hoses from the wood splitter. I wanted to keep moving before he talked himself out of going. The tractor was our only form of transportation. Two miles never seemed so long to travel, even with the throttle wide open.
    Keeping his eyes shut tight, I guided Mark to the house to change out of our farm clothes. There was not any blood oozing through his fingers, so I assumed we had time to change. I figured the other patients would not appreciate our working farm look either. It was a silent ride to urgent care as Christmas carols played softly on the radio.
    In the corner of the exam room, I sat silently praying for God to put the right people in our path. He did. I did not always like them at first, but they were the right people at the right time. The doctor passed us off to an eye specialist after taking one quick peek in his eye. The eye tech took his sweet time testing Mark’s vision before he would clean out the debris. The specialist stayed after hours on a Friday to tenderly and delicately work on cleaning up the damage to his eye. As gently as a mother cleans a toddler’s skinned knee, Dr. Simmons cleaned out Mark’s eye and put a Band-Aid contact on his cornea. If all goes well, his eye will be completely healed in seven days. There was all a procedure, a plan and a purpose to the events. I did not see it at first but eventually the picture came into focus as I look back at the events.
    With the good news of no damage to his vision, we now let our minds wander to what really could have happened. For the next two days, Mark was very sensitive to light. He wore sunglasses at night in the house to watch a Christmas movie. Most of the time he listened and kept both eyes closed behind the darkened lenses. Mark was beginning to understand the world of limited vision his father lives in with macular degeneration. He was starting to see things in a different light.
    We were able to keep him out of the barn for three milkings. Once he found a pair of wrap-around safety glasses, there was no stopping him. The funny thing about all of this is that Mark’s new prescription reading glasses came in a few days before his accident. He was tired of struggling to read the fine print in phone books, magazines and Christmas cards. In the blink of an eye, he could have lost all of those struggles in a completely different way.
    Sometimes we might need a moment of blindness to clear our vision and change our focus. This is a time of twinkling lights but it can also can be a time of growing darkness. It can feel as if a veil blocking the light has slipped over our eyes to see a future, to see hope, to see love. When one sense is compromised, the others become more acute. Still your heart and search for a glimmer of light to pierce through the darkness of night. Start to see with your other senses as you search for the light in the darkness. See the warm December sun as it warms your face. See the love of a child through a big grandpa hug. See the sound of joy as Christmas carolers stroll through the neighborhood. Take a moment to appreciate the gift of sight.
    I will let you in on a little secret. One of the wrapped presents under our tree is a box of safety glasses for everyone to wear. May you have a wonderful Christmas season.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother, Al, Schmitt farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are great help around the farm and are pushing Natalie out of several jobs. Therefore she is thankful to have something else to do. For questions or comments please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net.