Tuesday, May 15, 2018

With People Who Know This

A few weeks ago, we were paddling around Lake Union in one of the Center for Wooden Boats' umiaks when I managed to hook a pinky on my glasses and hurl them into the water. I made a grab for them as they began to sink, but failed. There was a brief moment when I wondered if it would be worth jumping in, but just as quickly decided that it would be both rash and very unlikely to succeed. So I watched them disappear into the deep.

I've been wearing those glasses for more than twenty years, the ones you see in the photo of me at the top of this blog. As I saw them for the last time, it felt as if I'd lost a part of me, both physically and emotionally. Glasses are a type of prothetic for sure, and as such replaceable, but I'd been using this particular prosthetic for such a long time, they're in all the pictures of me, they're part of of who I am . . . Or rather was, I realized as they passed out of view.

The truth is that not only had I owned those glasses for two decades, but I'm pretty sure it had been that long since the last time I had a new prescription. Indeed, it had gotten so that I rarely wore them on my face any longer because they were really only effective for mid-distances and I don't need glasses for reading. I had become one of those people who are forever taking my glasses off and on or, alternatively, squinting into the distance hoping to see something slightly more clearly. So even as I began a mini-mourning process, the rational part of my brain recognized that this was a blessing in that it would force me into an optometrist's office. Later that afternoon, I found that the soonest appointment I could secure was a week away so I resigned myself to living without my prosthetic for a time.

Since I rarely drive this wasn't as big a handicap as it might be for other people. Mostly it was just a bit annoying, but also edifying. Several times I caught myself reaching for my glasses and I began to note what kinds of things caused me to want to see more clearly. For instance, several times I imagined that the blurry figure walking toward me was a friend or acquaintance and I wanted to know for certain. I spotted an unknown figure opening the school gate and reached for those glasses to get a better look at the "stranger," who turned out to be Teacher Rachel wearing a cap I'd never seen before. I missed the clarity of the scenery on sunny days and found myself forever reaching for my seeing aids so as to better take in the beauty. And, pathetically, I caught myself more than once seeking more clarity when an attractive woman passed me by.

In the meantime, I flew to Alberta, Canada without my glasses. When I arrived at the airport I found it annoying that I couldn't read all the signs and schedules without walking right up to them, but otherwise it was fine. I was there, however, to give a couple talks at a conference and what I really didn't like was not being able to actually see the faces of the people in the audience. I hadn't realized before how much I rely on that kind of feedback.

My eye doctor told me that I wasn't the first patient to come in after having dropped his glasses in the lake. He even told the story of one woman who had hired a scuba diver to look for hers. He had turned up a couple pair, although neither of which were her lost ones. I briefly considered going that route myself, but only passingly.

So now I have new glasses. I didn't bother trying to replace the old ones and, with the advice of my wife, picked a pair of tortoise shell frames. And oh, what a change! I'm sure they alter my physical appearance, but more importantly, I can really see again, something that hasn't been true for a decade at least. Just walking down the street, seeing things clearly that I'd forgotten could be seen clearly, made me feel like a kind of peeper, as if I was ogling the entire world, seeing things I was not meant to see. I was astonished at the clarity of the world, the sharp lines, the shapes, and the colors. And for a week I've moved through my daily life living in a new and better world. I feel taller, stronger, more competent, better looking.

But I realized yesterday that the thrill is to be short lived. It's only been a week and I'm already taking it for granted: this miracle of seeing clearly. It's only human nature, after all, to begin to take things for granted, which is why it's important to periodically, as my mother says, count our blessings. Still, I hate that my sense of wonder is already faded. I'm going to try to continue to be amazed by it, but I know that it's only a matter of time before this prosthetic will just be another part of my body, an everyday aspect of me, something that I'll forget to appreciate until its gone. But that's neither here nor there, to be honest, it's just a pair of glasses. The important thing is that sense of wonder and, as always, it is most often found in the little things. This, more than anything else, is why I am grateful for the career I've chosen: I get to work, every day, with people who know this.

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