We Mock What We Are To Be
Fr. Joseph K. Horn
17 March 1996
St Barbara’s Parish
Santa Ana, California
You are going to have major brain surgery, and the doctor tells you that some nerves have to be cut, and you will certainly be left permanently either blind or deaf after the operation, but you have the choice. Would you rather lose your ability to hear, or your ability to see? You have to choose: would you rather be deaf, or blind?
Helen Keller was both blind and deaf, and when she was asked which handicap caused her the greater difficulty, her answer was startling: “Being deaf is a greater handicap than being blind, because people are patient and kind to the blind, but they are rude and cruel to the deaf.”
William Barclay made this striking observation: “The trouble with being deaf is that most people find deaf folks a nuisance. They sympathize with people who are blind and lame, but they get irritated and annoyed with people who are deaf. And the result of this is that deaf people are apt to avoid company, and get more and more shut in.”
You’ll never guess who said it best, though. Mel Brooks, during one of his funniest comedy routines, talked about how he treated his dad when he was a boy. His dad did the annoying things that grownups do, and Mel mocked his dad unmercifully. Next thing Mel knew, he was all grown up, and doing precisely the things that he had made fun of his dad for doing. Mel Brooks then made this cogent remark: “We mock what we are to be.”
It’s true. We mock what we are to be. Few people go blind, but most people lose much of their sense of hearing as they get older. We hate to be reminded of the fact that soon we too will be going deaf, and we take out our anger by spurning those who remind us, namely, those who are hearing impaired.
We mock what we are to be. As people age, their short-term memory begins to fail. We are unmerciful in our mockery of people who have poor memories. I should know. I’ve often illustrated my sermons with stories about my own infamously poor memory. Like the time I showed up at 2:00 PM for a wedding I was supposed to do four hours earlier... I’d gotten the time mixed up in my head. It was one of the most humiliating things that ever happened to me, not to mention the consternation of the bride & groom. To this day there are people who get no end of cruel pleasure from reminding me about it. Would they remind a blind person that they’re blind? Would they laugh about it? Of course not, because they aren’t going blind. But do they mock a failing memory? Yes, because we mock what we are to be.
People with weak memories, or a hearing disorder, have a handicap just as surely as does a person in a wheelchair, but society treats them very differently. When a person in a wheelchair crosses the street, or a person with a white cane crosses the street, traffic stops and everybody displays the height of politeness and concern for their welfare. But you just watch how people treat those with weak memories or imperfect hearing. Good Christians would never in a million years ever dream of being unkind to someone in a wheelchair, but these same people suddenly become cold, insensitive, diabolically cruel to anybody who forgets something, as if they forgot on purpose. They lose their patience with those who don’t hear them the first time, as if it’s the fault of the hearing-impaired person.
Why do we so quickly lose all our charity, abandon our Catholic upbringing, forsake our virtue, discard our dignity, and scrap our sense of civility whenever we deal with people who are hearing impaired or have failing memories? Because we mock what we are to be. I believe that the punishment for this mockery is that we become what we mock.
Jesus was different. When Jesus restored the sight of the man born blind, he did it in full sight of many onlookers, but when Jesus healed the deaf mute, he took the deaf man aside from the crowd, so that he wouldn’t be the center of attention, so that he wouldn’t be humiliated as he no doubt had so often been. Jesus didn’t think of the deaf mute as a problem, but as a person. It might have been the first time in that man’s life that he was treated as a person, instead of as a deaf mute. Two extraordinary things resulted: the man was healed, and after 2000 years the story has not been forgotten.
Here is something to think about. There are several people in your life who have trouble hearing, and several who have trouble remembering. If you treat them as people, instead of as problems, then two extraordinary things will happen. They will be cured of much of the hurt they have suffered from others’ insensitivity. And they will never forget you, because most people mock what they are to be, but you did not.