2020

“…in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort….” (From The Republic, Plato)

It’s hard to avoid the irony—the titular year of perfect vision, the unraveling of once reliable norms, political structures, checks and balances, civility in all arenas, the losses of loved ones and heroes to injustice and disease.

And it’s equally hard to avoid the comparison—between that titular year of sudden perfect vision, and the years of blurring and distortion, loss of sight preceding it.

That loss creeps up on us slowly. Colors lose their intensity, fading from brilliant to dull, letters spread into each other across pages and screens as poetry and prose and road signs seem layered with petroleum jelly. For a while, it’s easy to grow accustomed to, and comfortable with changes, a world smearing out of focus, and accommodate them with sharper lenses and adjusted habits. It’s easy to say we can deal with things as they are. We’re not missing anything truly important. We can still make out the big picture.

But then, one day, those street lights that come on at dusk glare at and confuse us, make us misread road signs. Or, the newspaper goes untouched because it’s too taxing to decipher small print. That’s when we realize how much of the big picture we’re not seeing.

I’m getting to that stage with my own vision, which has been on a steady decline for years. And I’ve been through enough cataract surgeries with friends and family to understand how startling sudden clarity can be.

More than one friend has related how shocked she was by her first look at herself after surgery. “I walked by the mirror, not intending to stop, then did a double-take after I caught sight of a strange image moving across the glass. I couldn’t believe the woman’s wrinkled up face was mine.”

For many of us, the severely clouded lenses that enabled our old lives and habits and beliefs have been stripped away, and we aren’t quite sure how to process and respond to the stark and painful clarity of new vision, or function with it. No matter which way we turn, no matter how well we think we’re adjusting, there’s always another flaw, another act of cruelty, corruption, injustice, bigotry, stupidity, selfishness, and there’s always another loss—of a loved one, or hero….

I wish I had words to ease the pain, fury, and helplessness over being assailed with such clarity, the harsh reality it exposes. But all I have is an increasing sense of urgency to more actively care for those I love, impress upon them the necessity of taking care of themselves and their loved ones, paying attention to persistent symptoms, scheduling life-saving tests, looking both ways when crossing the street, wearing a mask…wearing a mask….

That, at least, is a start.

Stay safe. Be well.

©2020 All Rights Reserved

Enlightenment

“Old and Young Woman” Ernst Ludwig Kirchner—1921

She looks upset, doesn’t she, the old woman. While the expression on the young woman’s face suggests…concern? Surprise? Maybe both. Maybe more.

Clearly, something is amiss.

Perhaps the old woman is in pain. There are scissors on the table. Did her hands stiffen and fail when she attempted to use them? Is that why her fingers are curled? Or, was she suddenly stricken in a way that alarmed her young companion? Perhaps she lashed out at an unintended slight, a reaction that caught the young woman off-guard.

It’s impossible to tell, as suggestive as the art is. The dynamics between people, especially old and young, can be complex and prone to misunderstandings. An old woman’s advice can feel irrelevant and judgmental to a younger one, while a young woman’s assistance can feel condescending and demeaning to an older one.

I’ve been young and certain, and now I’m older and acutely aware of youthful certainty’s unfortunate side: assumption—that older people are unable to learn and adapt, that they are all hearing impaired, and must be treated like children, and addressed as “Honey,” or “Dear,” and have their seat belts fastened for them. And I can’t help but wring my hands, and sometimes lash out…to their surprise.

Old and young woman. I know them both. They stare back at me from every mirror.

©2020 All Rights Reserved