Seeing More With One Eye
BY RABBI EFREM GOLDBERG
In a great article, Sight to Behold, L. Jon Wertheim tells the story of Luis Salazar. A longtime major-league infielder and minor-league coach, Salazar had been out of baseball for a year, happily sitting at home in Boca Raton. But in August 2010, he got the itch to return, so, with the blessing of Graciela, his wife of 33 years, Salazar sent out his résumé. The Atlanta Braves offered him a job managing their Class-A Carolina League team, the Lynchburg Hillcats.
Salazar joined the Braves for their spring training games in 2011 and was coaching third base one March afternoon. As Wertheim tells it:
Salazar was 55, a former third baseman whose reaction times were not what they once were. No matter. He had no chance. Not with slugger Brian McCann hitting from maybe 60 feet away and the foul ball traveling over 100 miles per hour. The projectile smacked Salazar in his left eye, making a hideous sound and knocking him backward, down the dugout steps. He fractured his right arm in the fall, but that was the least of it. He was unconscious, concussed, and blood poured from his nose, mouth and eye, puddling around his head as he lay face down. As a helicopter transported Salazar to an Orlando trauma center, the players struggled to keep it together, not least McCann, who left the game.
Salazar regained consciousness in the hospital that night. He says he saw a white light – ”very bright, so bright” – and fell back asleep. He woke up the next day after surgery, the first of three. “What happened?” he asked his wife. She told him. He nodded. He went to the bathroom and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Then the gravity set in. “It’s scary when you don’t recognize yourself,” he said. “That’s when I knew how bad it was.”
Doctors first told him the good news. He was alive. And, blessedly, he’d suffered no brain injury. Then, a few days later, the bad news: his left eye was so damaged it would need to be removed.
Six days after he was hit, Salazar’s left eye was surgically removed, his socket suddenly resembling a garage without a car. He conceded that was “a tough day,” but he was more focused on thanking God that he had come out of the ordeal relatively unscathed. The doctor told him that losing the eye meant only that he couldn’t be a fighter pilot. Otherwise, there would be no restrictions. He put a bandage over the eye – beating others to it by making the obligatory Pittsburgh Pirates joke – and went about his business.
When Salazar was finally released from the hospital, he drove the three hours from Orlando to Boca Raton. “I needed to do that for myself,” he said. On April 15, he made his managerial debut in Lynchburg. By this point, his story had generated some media attention – particularly among Braves fans – and a capacity crowd turned out to welcome the new manager. Graciela was in the stands as well. “Just putting on the uniform, going to home plate and handing the lineup card to the umpire,” he said. “That was the best moment of my baseball career.”
During his season managing in Lynchburg, Salazar often spent the duration of bus trips returning voicemails from friends. “In a way, I see more now than I did with two eyes,” he said. “I see friends, teammates I haven’t spoken to in 25 years. I notice more around the ballpark. It’s maybe crazy to say, but in some ways, it’s been a blessing.”
We take it as a given that we light the Chanukah candles to see the flames. We tend to assume that the pirsumei nissa, the publicizing of the miracle, is achieved by lighting oil and commemorating a miracle from many years ago.
But perhaps we are missing the point. Maybe the real purpose is not to see the flame itself but to allow the flame to illuminate the darkness and reveal what is all around us.
Perhaps publicizing the miracle is not accomplished through the candle, but rather by taking a moment to consider the trials and tribulations we have been through and then allowing the light to illuminate how fortunate and blessed we are nonetheless.
Somehow, after thousands of years of persecution and systematic attempts to destroy, the Jewish people are still here. We are the miracle!
Individually, each of us has struggled in our own way. Even for the most fortunate among us, life is not easy. And yet we are still here, and we are grateful.
On Chanukah, the rabbis commanded us to light one candle per household, ner ish ubeito. Homiletically, perhaps the chief importance of the ner, the candle, is to illuminate the ish and the beito, the people and the household who surround us – to remember how fortunate we are to be in this moment together with those we love.
Louis Salazar sees more with one eye than he ever saw with two. When we light that menorah, we too must see beyond what our eyes perceive and appreciate the blessings and the miracles that surround us.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 850 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida.