On the Benefits of Getting Glasses
On Valentine’s day this year I got my first pair of glasses.
Squinting at a street sign to see if it was the street I needed to turn onto, I absent mindedly wondered what my new HD world would be like.
Oh well, I thought, My vision is probably not that bad. I’m sure it won’t be that different.
Reader, it was very different.
Trees, I discovered, had individual, dancing leaves.
Buildings had rows of tidy bricks.
Road signs are, in fact, meant to be read from a distance of more than 10 feet away.
As I wondered around that day, absorbing all I beheld with my mouth dopily open, I was surprised to feel overwhelmed and vaguely embarrassed.
Let me explain.
The startling clarity suddenly available to me, was almost overstimulating, resulting in a kind of beauty intoxicated weariness. Before, trees were were mighty giants of earthy colours and magnificent solidity, sweeping generalisations of greens and browns. Now they were intricate organisms of unbelievable specificity and complexity. So many individual leaves! My view of the world moved from a Monet like appreciation of the vague impression of general loveliness, to an awareness of the intricate complexity of Caravaggio.
Somehow, it was all a little much to take in.
Almost too much.
(I’m curious if any other new glasses wearers have felt this way, or if I’m just odd… Very possibly the latter)
I also felt a hazy sense of embarrassment.
As I sat at lunch that day, I began to notice facial details I’d never observed on my friends.
An endearing smattering of freckles spreading from the bridge of E’s nose.
The swirling circular pattern of B’s facial hair.
I also noticed that I made eye contact with people far away from me a lot more because, well, I could see their eyes rather than a blurry impression of their face.
It all felt a little indecent. I felt like I was suddenly admitted to a new level of intimacy with the whole world now that I could see their freckles and stubble.
Everyone was, of course, entirely unaware of this change in our relationship.
I, ridiculously, felt like blushing.
These oddities aside, I found my newly sharpened life lovely and vastly more convenient.
(did you know you’re supposed to be able to READ the drinks list in coffee shops?! WILD, I know).
Why, I kept wondering, Why did I wait so long to get glasses? Why did I convince myself I could see?
It reminds me of a passage of scripture that has often unsettled me:
For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes--so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’
In this passage, Jesus, in the tradition of the prophets (particularly Isaiah and Jeremiah), speaks of a wilful blindness that keeps people from healing. It used to seem almost senseless to me; why would anyone chose to be blind? Why would anyone choose to see dimly if they could see clearly? Especially if that choice prevented healing?
I wonder if sometimes we choose blindness— be it in the realm of our beliefs, our self-perception, our relationships, our attention to societal ills— because to see more clearly would overwhelm and embarrass us.
I had an experience of that this summer. While sitting on my front porch, drinking iced tea and praying in that sort of absent minded chatting with God way I sometimes do, the bifocals of my own self perception fell into place with startling suddenness. I realised a flaw in myself I’d been missing, and I realised the very specific impact it had on my relationships, and one relationship in particular
Oh God, I said, How did You not make me aware of this before?
It felt like God had let me walk around with lettuce in my teeth for an uncomfortably long time.
Lord, you could have told me before now! This is not how friends treat eachother!
Ah, but having eyes I did not see.
Having ears, I did not hear.
I realised: I had been putting it off. Just like my glasses. I had been saying “Surely I’m not that blind in this area.” But with the lenses settled on my nose, and staring in the mirror, I was startled by the clarity. I didn’t feel guilty, exactly. Just overwhelmed. And a little embarrassed.
Overwhelmed because my blindness in this area had allowed me to think of myself, situations, and specific people in impressionistic generalities, to say “oh, she just responds that way because of her personality…” to excuse my own actions. But all at once, I saw the specific and complex nature of myself, and the nexus of my impact on relationships. Seeing the many factors felt clarifying, but overwhelming.
And I felt embarrassed. It was as though I had been living my life as Pooh Bear with a honey pot over my head: “If I can’t see you (and the complex, particulars of our relationship and your feelings), you can’t see me (and my general flaw of being a pill of a human being).”
Life with blurry vision is sometimes simpler, less complex, pretty in its own impressionistic way.
But, the advantages of improved vision are obvious: you see things more like they really are.
I say more like they really are, because one of the frustrating vagaries of human existence is our inherent subjectivity. Life is always mediated to us through our own perspective, history, and blindness. This is not to say that there is no such thing as Life or Truth itself, but rather that we are limited, by our God given natures, and can never fully possess it.
We are susceptible to blindness.
Given our natural limitations of vision, how might we check our blindness?
How does one get glasses for the soul? The intellect?
Here are my suggestions.
The first is to look up.
My optometrist informs me that I have “college myopeia.” By this he means, my vision was okay before, but in college I read too many books (haha, I wish. It’s actually probably more to do with computer screens). My focus on academics, while sharpening my mind, weakened my vision.
What have you become fixated on that blinds you to other areas in your life? Other people?
The second is to check with people around you.
Part of how I realised I needed glasses was by pointing at a road sign and saying…
“lol. That print is so small. Who could read that?!” to a friend.
And her responding “it’s actually quite clear.”
(note: I did not, in fact, say “lol,” rather, I chuckled softly).
This moment made me aware that there were things others could see clearly that I could not. And that perhaps that said more about me than them. What are the things which others seem to see clearly that you do not?
Perhaps your inability to see such things says more about you than them.
And perhaps not. Use discretion through seeking numerous opinions (of people who won't just tell you what you want to hear).
Finally, seek wisdom.
Rather pragmatically, Proverbs 4:7 says “the beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom.” Or put in other terms, the beginning of good vision is: get glasses.
I think part of the way we avoid personal, intellectual, spiritual blindness is by seeking the light that knowledge and wisdom sheds on our view of the world.
There is a great tradition of philosophers, poets, and theologians who use sign as a metaphor for knowledge. Before him, one could think of Plato’s analogy of the cave, Augustine’s divine illumination, or Bonaventure’s idea of the illumination of synderesis, or Milton’s heartbreaking poems on his own physical blindness.
Pulsing through most of Western Philosophy is this idea, or perhaps it would be better to call it a wish, to see things as they truly are; and to see would be to know things as they truly are.
The hunt is still on. But I think in our own imperfect ways we can seek wisdom.
We can read deep and wide to tighten your grasp on the sort of world we live in.
We can seek mentors who seem to have a clear eyed view of the world.
We can listen to beautiful music and read good books, for they hold their own unique illuminating knowledge.
Perhaps most importantly, we can hold regular conferences with the Creator of the universe on your front porch while drinking iced tea.
Seeing more clearly may lead to being overwhelmed and embarrassed, but sparkling clarity of reality is worth it. After my front porch revelation, I knew I had an apology to make. When I did, the other party was very kind. And to my great surprise, we both laughed because, with soul-ish spectacles on, the trouble seemed so absurdly obvious. But Reinhold Niebuhr believed that laughter often leads to repentance, and I think he was right. To laugh at oneself is an act of self transcendence; it helps cure myopia.
Oh, and now I have contacts, but that’s for a whole other blog post.