Love is Sight

While living in Austria I saw a prime example of how love is NOT blind.

His name was Franzl.  He got on everyone’s nerves.  When he looked at you, he leered through mustard colored teeth accompanied by equally mustard-colored breath.  He walked in a coiled hunch as if he expected some unseen assailant to strike him at any moment.  When he talked to you, he always seemed to have some off-the-wall comment designed to get under your skin. (He said to me once, “That shirt makes you look even uglier.”)  As you struggled with how to respond to him without eliciting his well-known acidic anger, he would sneer a grin at you.  He would disappear for a few weeks at a time, and then reappear, seemingly feistier than ever.  If you hated to see him coming to youth Bible study, or worship, or if you were ever relieved that he hadn’t shown up when he was absent, you were in good company.  No one liked him.

No one, that is, but Frau Wieser.  Whenever Franzl came stalking into the fellowship and the crowd parted in a rush to avoid being near him, there was Frau Wieser standing in the gap.  She would put her arm around Franzl and ask him how he was doing.  She would look right into his squinting eyes with a bright, pleasant, angelic look, all of it completely genuine.  And around Frau Wieser, Franzl was quiet, calm, and at peace.  In worship, he would sit next to her with his head on her shoulder.  At fellowships, he would bring her coffee and strudel and sip his coffee when she sipped hers.

During one of the periods when Franzl had disappeared, I asked Frau Wieser about him.  “Frau Wieser,” I said, “You seem to have a special interest in Franzl, and you’re able to put up with him when no one else can.  What is it about him?”

Frau Wieser smiled and told me that it was easy to “put up with” Franzl when you understood him.  And then she told me that Franzl was born to a young, unmarried girl from a conservative little Alpine village in the 1950’s.  To avoid the embarrassment of the pregnancy, the parents sent the girl off to a rather bleak home for pregnant girls in Italy.  Two days after Franzl was born, the girl tightly wrapped the infant in a sheet, placed him in a shoe box, and dropped the package in the mail, whereupon she disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Incredibly, the baby survived, discovered by a horrified postal worker in Salzburg where the package arrived a day or two later.  He’d suffered brain damage, however, and no one in Salzburg would claim the baby.  Franzl had lived as a ward of the state all his life, unclaimed and rejected by most everyone, tolerated by the Christians at the tiny Baptist church into which he had wandered one Sunday morning, but to which he kept returning because of the embrace he’d received from Frau Wieser.  In Frau Wieser’s love, Franzl found peace.

Even though he still got on my nerves, seeing him through Frau Wieser’s eyes changed how I saw Franzl.  She had taken the time to learn the story behind the person.  She had taken the step to reach beyond herself.  She had, evidently, nurtured her inner person so thoroughly, that she could touch the deepest, inner regions of a person as damaged as Franzl.  She had amazing insight and vision.  She could see what others missed.

I remember the first time I saw Frau Wieser.  It was the first Sunday I attended worship at the little Baptist church after I had arrived in Salzburg.  She came to the platform to sing a solo with the choir.  An escort lovingly took her hand, guided her up the steps and turned her toward the congregation – not because she was old and less mobile.  No. This woman who stood there singing in such an angelic voice, who could see into the depths of human souls, who had amazing and singular insight, had been born blind.

And ever since, I’ve aspired to see the way she could.

That's Frau Wieser, second from the left.  Notice that she's the only one NOT using a hymnal.  She knew the words by heart.  (Photo taken in 1978)

That’s Frau Wieser, second from the left. Notice that she’s the only one NOT using a hymnal. She knew the words by heart. (Photo taken in 1978)

About Drexel Rayford

Drexel has been senior pastor of four churches in Kentucky and Virginia, a psychiatric ward chaplain, denominational bureaucrat, and an erstwhile indie singer/songwriter/story-teller and seeker of authentic human vocation. Currently, Drexel is working at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center in the capacity of The Support Team Network manager, a hospital-based community partnership aimed at nurturing healing communities for discharged patients. He loves kayaking, road cycling, hiking, and all kinds of photography, but he loves his wife Vicki and his daughter Melissa more. He got a Ph.D. in the Psychology of Religion mainly because he had a lot of self-examination to do.
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