Eyesight

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I didn’t know I was having vision problems until the DMV pointed it out to me. A pair of glasses fixed it.

Driving at night was becoming a problem for me. I wasn’t sure if it was the desert darkness on the highway late at night, worn out from long rehearsals, or just the fact that I was getting older, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to see at night. The glare of the headlights coming in my direction made it impossible for me to focus. My sons would keep an eye out on the road for people walking along the highway at night. Why people would choose to do that, I will never understand. For self-preservation alone, why do they not carry a flashlight or have something reflective on?

I continued to make the drive, carefully, only because I didn’t need to read the signs to know where to go between the theater and home, but I was starting to limit my excursions to daytime activities. Driving in unfamiliar places in the dark was becoming impossible. This must be part of getting older, I thought, although I would never have admitted it out loud.

As my 40th birthday approached, I found a driver’s license renewal from the DMV in my mailbox. Opening it, I figured I was going to have to pay the fee and be done with it. I’ve never gotten a ticket or been in an accident. To my dismay, I found I’d have to go in for a vision test. No problem, I thought, at least I don’t have to take the test again. Don’t make fun of me, but I barely passed the written and behind-the-wheel test when I was 16! I live in mortal fear of the day I have to study and take it again.

I made an appointment at the DMV and headed into the city the following month. I covered one eye and read the letters on the board ahead of me, as instructed. No problem. When I covered the other eye, the world went blurry. I could only read the first and second line! The DMV employee had me read it off the computer. “Sometimes the computer screen is easier.” She told me. I still couldn’t read it.

It was the strangest feeling. I’ve never had vision problems. My mother always wore glasses and I used to tease her when I was a teenager. Coming home in the middle of the night, knowing she couldn’t see the clock without her glasses, I’d tell her it was only 10:30 when she would groggily ask from her bed when we had woken her. My brother and I thought we were so clever.

I stood there at the DMV trying to focus on the letters to no avail. The DMV worker was so nice about it. She passed me but suggested that I get glasses right away. I made an appointment the next day. My vision was that bad. When I got my new glasses a few weeks later, I was absolutely amazed at how much better I could see. At night, the lights no longer fuzzed out and blinded me and during the day, I could see read the signs so much sooner.

Strange to think I hadn’t noticed my vision getting worse, that I believed I was seeing the world as I had always seen it. How could I have not noticed such a dramatic change?

That’s how we see life. The world around us is only our personal reality, shaped by time and experience that only we can have. No one else sees it just the way you do. It builds up slowly, day after day, experience after experience. And at any moment, something can come along to change that perception, someone can alter your perspective with a word. One experience can show you that you are missing something, and another can offer you new insight. Your whole world changes.

I could have stood there and argued with the DMV worker. There must be something wrong with your machine! Maybe there was something in my eye, I was tired, or it was allergies. I could have stood there holding tightly to my own perception of reality and never gotten any help. I could have continued to squint into the night and cause an accident or gone through life not knowing that there were trees on the top of that hill.

Hold lightly to your perceived reality, it makes it so much easier to change. There is so much we miss by holding on to the past and what we believe to be true, never changing.

To Wisdom!

From Philosophy Now magazine, “Hegel on History” by Lawrence Evans

“As he famously writes, “the owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.” In other words, philosophy (or ‘wisdom’, hence his reference to the Roman goddess of wisdom) can only analyze history retrospectively, from the standpoint of the present.”

Hegel was speaking of philosophy, but I’m going to take it personally and apply it to personal wisdom.

“The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.” Wisdom can only come at the end of events, not before or during. As the sun rises and makes its way across the sky, we’ll have to rely on our wits and keep working. But once the sun sets, the owl comes out to hunt.

What is “wisdom”? The dictionary says, the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. You can’t have wisdom without experience. You can borrow someone else’s wisdom though and, adding it to your own experience, have greater wisdom in the long run, but you’ll have to have some negative and positive experience to have real wisdom.

So, while I’m having one too many drinks with a friend over lunch and going a bit too far, and afterwards texting a bit too many of the conflicting thoughts that are running through my head in words that are not that clear, I’m making some serious mistakes that may cost me a friendship. Maybe some better laid out principles would have made this situation go more smoothly? Listening to the wisdom of another friend may have spared me. But here I am muddling through voluntarily on my own. The least I can do is watch for the owl.

What wisdom have I gained? I’d elucidate, but I’m afraid it’s far to personal. That’s a rarity for me. Why write about it here if I’m not going to tell you what I learned? Because everyone gains their own wisdom from their own experiences. The key is to know that you can learn instead of just getting up and falling down again.

Experiences are just that, experience. What I wish I could do better is have patience with myself and wait to react after I’ve taken some time from the experience. Instead of reacting right away while I and those that had the experience along side of me are still…recovering…maybe I could have some key phrases and responses that will give me time to process and then say something helpful.

Writing that down for next time, although, at this age you’d think I’d have already learned that and would remember. Some days I wish there was a smart phone app that listened to everything I said and knew where I was and with whom and would pop up with great reminders as a text from a friend. It would say things like, “Do not order another drink.” and “Remember what how she reacted last time?” or “Your mother doesn’t appreciate that kind of language.”

Well, here’s to experience and (hopefully) wisdom!