Monday, May 31, 2010

What else have I been missing?

So I was reading a book last night, enjoying the crisp view of the text on the page thanks to my new eye (with the aid of one of multiple pairs of new reading glasses), looked down at my arm holding the book, and saw snakeskin.

What once -- some decades ago, apparently -- had been smooth and supple, now looked wrinkled and scaly. Like the arm of somebody's very elderly grandmother. Startled and distressed, I closed the left eye with its fine new cataract-free lens, and looked at my arm through the yet-untampered-with right.

Not exactly smooth and supple, but sure enough, no snakeskin, the wrinkles smoothed by the patina of time clouding the lens whose days are numbered.

As I explore the new world that has opened to me through the miracle of cataract surgery, I'm making all sorts of discoveries. I can actually read street signs. I see distinct leaves on trees, not just green blobs, and the petals on flowers. People's faces as they approach me. It's great.

I also see how much gray really is in my hair. The sad state of my neck. The bags and dark circles under my eyes. And snakeskin covering my arms and hands. I'm getting a view of myself as others have been seeing me.

That's less great, if you come from the ignorance-is-bliss school of self-awareness. And for me, valedictorian of the oh-my-god-if-I've-missed-this-what-else-is-wrong College of Worry, troubling indeed, but maybe also a kick in the pants.

I know that just because I can't see or experience things first-hand doesn't mean they don't exist. I accept that dogs hear sound frequencies I cannot detect. I believe it's cold at the south pole even though I've never been there. Anyone who believes in a higher power takes on faith all sorts of truths for which the knowledge is second-hand and the evidence circumstantial.

But my cataract surgery has brought more than flowers and dust formation into clear focus for me. It suggests that the clouded vision that allowed me to believe my hair doesn't show all that much gray, might extend to many other aspects of my relatively comfortable, complacent little life.

Because my clearer new vision will be not be worth much if I don't bring a clearer head into the equation.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The wisdom to know the difference

In the movie One True Thing, a Meryl Streep mother character advises the Renee Zellweger daughter, "It's so much easier to choose to love the things that you have, instead of always yearning for what you're missing."

I love that line. It expresses the essence of living in the moment, a goal toward which I continue to strive.

But what if the missing things you yearn for, you really could have? If what you have has slowly, steadily, imperceptibly eroded without your knowledge - and you could get it back?

As I type this, I am getting acquainted with a new lens inserted yesterday in my left eye, replacing the cataract-ridden model I was born with. The difference is astounding. Colors are vivid. The type on the computer screen is crisp and clear; I can read for the first time the words in the pastel colors youthful web art directors seem to fancy, clueless as to the audience they're turning away. (Or maybe a not-so-clueless geezer repellent - a topic for a different day....)

Through my right eye, I see my world as it was -- hazy, gauzy, yellowish-gray. Through my left, I see an entirely different place: vibrant and alive. Dirtier, too -- walking Otis this morning I saw more gunk on the sidewalk than seemed to be there yesterday. I'm getting up the nerve to go look at my kitchen counter....

The point being, my vision slipped away to yellow-gray slowly, silently, under my personal radar. What deficiency I noticed, I accepted as a penalty of having lived this long. I didn't exactly love the vision I had, and I did indeed yearn for what I was missing, but accepted what I had with appreciation for being able to see at all. I was more or less happily in Meryl Streep's acceptable moment.

Which in fact was not acceptable.

What else have I shrugged off and chosen to accept as it is, that could be better with a little effort (or in this case, a considerable sum of cash)?

What else has slipped away, little by little, without my consciousness, that I could sharpen back up?

Where's the line between appreciating the moment, and consciously working toward improvement?

I don't have an answer. But I'm not choosing to love the gauzy view from my right eye any more. Surgery to replace that lens will be scheduled at the first possible instant.

And now, about that kitchen counter....