My sweet old myopia
Every year at Christmastime my younger sister and I would pile into the car with our parents to drive over to Flemingsburg to see the Christmas displays on the houses. (It was an innocent time.) The standing joke in the family was that every year my parents would describe some particularly gaudy display on the rooftop of the local Chevrolet dealer’s house, which was set back from the street, and I would say, “I don’t see anything.”
By the time I was ten, and my teacher, Frances Dorsey, suggested that it would be a good thing to have my eyes examined, it dawned on my parents that I had not been playing some child’s game with them. I was, and am, severely nearsighted.
How severely? If you are more than ten feet away from me, I might recognize you but would have trouble distinguishing your features. If I read without my glasses, I have to hold the page so close that I can’t focus on the text with both eyes at the same time.
But myopia has its compensations. Mine is correctible with glasses, and so since the age of ten I have been readily identifiable as a four-eyed bookworm, which enables people to form their perceptions without my having to go to any effort to establish an identity.
At nighttime, the lights from buildings and vehicles become stars and pinwheels—not when I’m driving, mind you—and it is like being inside a kaleidoscope, investing the most banal surroundings with an exotic air.
Most of all, nearsightedness permits a retreat from the world. When I take off my glasses, the external world just fades away and I am in my own place.* You may surmise, if you see me remove my glasses during a sermon or lecture or meeting, that my eyes hurt and require a little relief; but it is just as possible that I have decided that my private reflections are more profitable than whatever I have just tuned out.
People who can see have no idea how handy this is.
*There are other means, of course. Though I cannot recall how it came about, at some point in childhood I was given dispensation to read at the family dinner table. This had two advantages: It enabled me to withdraw into the world of print, which has always been my most reliable refuge, and it distanced me from the squabbles and criticisms and recriminations that were the family recreation at table.