Sunday, June 21, 2009

Learning to See (Again)

I recently had my annual eye exam and was confronted with another reminder that I am in my mid-life years: it's time for bifocals. Oh my!

I wanted to get the contact lenses with the bifocal built in--"baby bifocals," my doctor called them--but they don't have my prescription in that model. So I am resigned to being able to see really well long-distance with my contacts in but needing to use a pair of those dime-store readers when I do things like read or knit something I need to pay attention to. (I had the option of getting the baby bifocals in a weaker prescription, but it turned out that I couldn't really see a person across a big room clearly, and I'm sure that's going to mess me up when I'm back in the classroom in the fall...) So I'm using readers on occasion, and feeling a little self-conscious about sending a clear signal to others that I am officially Middle Aged.

This experience brought back memories of when I got my first glasses--and, more pointedly, when it was discovered that I needed them. Badly.

I was in third grade, and we were all lined up across from the principal's office, each one taking our turn in the little room where a nice lady had set up her machine. We had to look inside the scope and tell her which way the Es were pointing. I remember being one of the kids not to say "up" or "down" or "left" or "right," but rather point with my fingers--THREE fingers held out just like an E--and contort myself so that they'd be pointing the same direction as the E.

(The one on the right is the one we saw through the scope!)
But I had a problem. I couldn't see which way the Es were pointing on the line she wanted me to read. So she asked me which line I'd rather read--which one was not fuzzy. "All of them are fuzzy," I said, suddenly knowing Something was Very Wrong, and crying. "Even the one at the top?" Yes. She shut the door to the little room so that I could have some privacy and collect myself.

Within days (?), I was taken to an eye doctor, who told my mother I was "legally blind," but luckily it was correctable. I didn't know what that meant, but I knew I wasn't blind. I just couldn't see the board at all. Anyhow, shortly thereafter I got my first pair of glasses: beautiful pearlized grey cat's-eye frames that I thought were the most stylin' thing to hit St. Jerome's school that year. I could definitely see better with them.

I experienced one of the biggest shocks of my life when we left the doctor's office and stepped outside. (I remember this moment like it was yesterday, not almost 4 decades ago!) I looked up at the trees, and I could SEE them--not just see that there were trees there, a hazy idea of what trees were up in the sky, but I could actually SEE the branches and leaves. I could see individual branches and leaves!! And I thought to myself: is this what everyone else sees? You mean THIS is what it's like to be able to see? It was a whole 'nother world...

Lately, when I put on my new contact lenses and look for the tops of the trees, I remember the absolute awe of that moment, the almost-not-believing-it feel of it. And when I need to use the readers because I can't see clearly close up (an unfamiliar phenomenon to me!), I think that I'm learning about a new stage of being a person who needs glasses. Will this new inability to see bring me insight, as it does to so many literary characters? Hmmm...

I hope you see something you find compelling today!

(P.S. I edited my post to add a graphic of the eye chart...)


  1. Wow! Your third grade story could be my second grade story, every detail including the pearly white/gray cat eye glasses and the subsequent amazement at the visual detail of the world. Cool!

    Thanks for talking to Buford. That is the best cat name I've ever heard.

  2. Karen - just wrote a long comment about glasses and not needing them... until recently and then managed to fast-type my way back to Reya's blog and lost it.

    But either way - sympathies on your eyesight saga. I'm in those middle years too, but only very, very recently joined the ranks of spectacle wearers.

    Am finding it difficult :)

  3. Looks like all three of us are trying to learn something new in our mid-life years... may we all find a suitable level of competence!