September 27, 2019

‘The good will prevail’: After losing his sight in a devastating crash, Greg Mark found light amid the darkness

Greg Mark shares a smile with his granddaughter Bridget Mayer as he sits on the sidelines before a kickball game on the playground of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) School in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Greg Mark shares a smile with his granddaughter Bridget Mayer as he sits on the sidelines before a kickball game on the playground of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) School in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Greg Mark kept trying to find the right words to keep the young woman from killing herself.

The 25-year-old woman was calling a suicide intervention hotline from a bridge, tottering between jumping to her death and hoping someone could give her a reason to continue living.

“It was the hardest one I ever had,” recalls Mark, who volunteered for six years for the hotline in Indianapolis.

In his early 60s at the time, Mark had tried just about everything he had learned in his intensive training, and he still wasn’t able to convince her to choose life. That’s when he said, “If you don’t mind, let me tell you about myself.”

Mark then shared the story of the near-death experience that crumpled his body and left him blind at the age of 25—an experience that changed his life and his faith.

As he shared the details of that story with the young woman, he also hoped and prayed that it would save her life, too.

“It was March 2 of 1980,” he recalls. “I was on my way to 11:30 Mass on a two-lane country highway. My fiancée was in the car with me. In the distance, a car crossed the center line. I told him, ‘Move over, Charlie!’ He didn’t. There were guardrails on both sides of the road. There was nowhere for me to go. It was a head-on collision.”

The darkness and the light

The extensive injuries to his face required plastic surgery. He had a couple of broken ribs, and the injuries to his legs left him with casts up to his knees, leading him to spend six weeks in a hospital. Worst of all, he lost his sight immediately and permanently.

“I didn’t throw tantrums, but I was totally devastated. Donna Kay is a pretty lady, and it was awful that I couldn’t look at her,” he says about his then-fiancée, who suffered a broken back in the accident. “I couldn’t see the sun rise and the sun set. It was so overwhelming.”

At the darkest time of his young life, Mark focused on a simple approach to living that gave him a measure of hope, strength and direction.

“I actually lived with the thought of literally putting one foot in front of the other,” says the member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “I broke down all my tasks into these small things, and that was all the difference.”

So was the support of Donna Kay, her parents and his family. Equally crucial was the foundation of his faith and his belief that God wants the best for him.

That’s exactly what God has given him—a wonderful life, Mark told the young woman on the bridge. His fiancée married him seven months after the accident. He has been blessed by a marriage that will mark 39 years in October. They have three children and seven grandchildren. And he has found a career that lets him make a difference in the lives of other people.

“It’s a pretty rich and faith-filled life,” says Mark, who is now 65. “I told her that I was blind, and how I was blinded, and where I was in my life. I told her it all changed for me, and it all changed a lot. I told her there is hope; that if she gets help, things will smooth out for her. She calmed down. My blindness helped her cope with what she was dealing with.

“I asked her, ‘How can I help you? Can I call somebody?’ I called her home, and her father came and picked her up. I called again 20 minutes later, and she was with her father. I knew she would be OK.”

‘I can find a deeper faith through this’

While Mark has helped to save others’ lives, he has also experienced a saving power in his.

One defining moment came about three years after he lost his sight, a time during which he earned a master’s degree in business. The moment happened when he was teaching a class in computer literacy to people who are blind.

“A student came into my classroom, thrusting the door open and saying, ‘Greg, why shouldn’t I kill myself?’ I was taken aback. I told him his life will become like it was before—‘You’ll be happy, you’ll be sad. The good will prevail.’ I also said I believe in hope and everlasting life.

“He did not concur with me. After I said that, I thought about it afterward. It made me think more deeply about it. My faith in everlasting life does sustain me. There’s so much peace there. I have this suffering, but I can be redeemed, and I can find a deeper faith through this. I can also be an inspiration to others.”

No one has seen that growth and transformation more closely than his wife.

“It was our faith that we knew would get us through this,” Donna Kay says. “Even when we were taken away in the ambulance, we were together, we held hands, and we prayed and said it was in God’s hands.”

Still, there were moments of questioning about the couple’s future following the discovery that the accident had left Greg blind.

“He didn’t want to drag me into something I didn’t want to be dragged into,” she recalls. “I remember talking to my mom and dad about it. I did recommit again. I said, ‘He may not have his sight, but he would still be Greg Mark, the man I was engaged to.’ I told him I was all in.”

Thirty-nine years later, that commitment has deepened.

“Not a lot of people could have done this and kept their sense of humor, their faith and their love, but we’ve done it,” she says. “There are good times and tough times, but we’ve always focused on the positive.”

She adds, “And he just keeps deepening his faith. He’s a true inspiration.”

‘There was an explosion in my faith’

Pete Cava is among the many people who have been inspired by Mark. Still, as often is the case between men who are good friends, Cava starts his appreciation of Mark with a humorous story, one involving his “seeing-eye dog” at the time—Lonnie, a black Labrador retriever.

“Greg was at St. Luke for Mass, along with his young son, Andrew, and Lonnie,” Cava recalls. “Entering the sanctuary, they bumped into a friend of Greg’s. The two men were talking when Andrew started tugging at Greg’s arm, urgently saying, ‘Dad! Dad!’

“Greg told Andrew not to interrupt and went back to the conversation. But Andrew was insistent. It turned out that Greg was standing next to a table where the Communion wafers had been stored, and Lonnie was feasting on them. Later, Greg asked for absolution for Lonnie’s transgression. He was told that since the hosts hadn’t been consecrated, both dog and master were off the hook.”

That story makes Cava laugh, but he quickly turns serious when he mentions how Mark’s faith influences others.

The two friends first met through the Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) program at St. Luke. Soon, they became members of a Bible study group and started serving on an archdiocesan team that presented the CRHP program in other parishes. They also signed up for the Cursillo program that strives to deepen the Catholic faith. Then they helped lead a Cursillo team.

At every point of that faith journey, Cava saw how Mark “attracts and inspires people.”

Yet Mark insists, “It was so refreshing to hear other people talk about their faith. There was an explosion in my faith from having shared and discussed it with a group of men. Iron sharpening iron.”

Fully embracing every part of life

It’s a Sunday morning during the 9:30 Mass at St. Luke Church. Mark is back from another business trip on the road for the company he leads—a company that helps modify job settings “to set up blind people for computer-related jobs.”

Just as he has done for more than 35 years, Mark made the business trip through airports by himself and with the help of strangers. He’s also hiked eight miles through woods and climbed a mountain in Colorado with the assistance of others.

Now, he walks to the pulpit of the church, where he serves as a lector at the the Mass. To proclaim the readings with the congregation, he uses a talking computer, explaining the process this way: “I have an earpiece, and I listen to each line of the reading and announce it. And then I listen to the next line and announce it.”

It’s all done with a deep reverence.

“Not only do I like the preparation, but as I often tell people when they ask, I love being part of the presentation of the Mass.”

That deep involvement reflects the way Mark embraces every part of his life, says Steve Dickmeyer, who has been friends with Mark since their days in third grade at the former St. Andrew the Apostle School in Indianapolis.

“You forget when you’re around him that he’s blind,” says Dickmeyer, who notes that he has seen Mark golf, snow ski and play darts.

And while Dickmeyer also praises Mark’s sense of humor, he especially appreciates another quality about his friend.

“Greg sees more clearly than me because he is not biased by appearances. He listens better and gets to know the real person better than I ever could.

“He truly worries about each person’s soul, and he’s willing to risk talking to people about religion. He’s not afraid to ask people about their faith and even challenge them in a non-obnoxious way. The quote, ‘All hope is tied to salvation,’ is a big thing for him.”

‘Everything good comes from God’

There are moments when Mark thinks back to that head-on collision nearly 40 years ago. The crash not only took away his sight, it took away the life of a young woman in the other car, and it left the driver of the other car with a severe brain injury.

“The fact that I’m even here is kind of crazy,” Mark says. “And I’m blessed that my ability to think wasn’t taken away in that accident. I didn’t always think of that in the beginning. I came to that conclusion through my faith, through praying.”

Mark pauses for a moment, trying to find the right words to punctuate the importance of Christ’s place in his life.

“There’s so much about being Catholic that is dying to self,” he says. “When you live to be something for someone else—for Jesus Christ—you’re heading north.

“Everything good comes from God. I take it and try to live God’s will as best I can. And that just frees you. I can let go of power, wealth and prestige, and I can touch eternity.” †

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