I read about a person’s “master status” when I took a sociology class long ago. I suppose there are several that might fit me: woman; Caucasian; Baby Boomer. But I also lay claim to one that has brought blessings, perhaps, while eliciting a kind of incredulous insensitivity on the part of children and idiots. And that would be my membership in the class of people who are “visually challenged; “four-eyes”; “blind as a bat”; burdened with “Coke-bottle” lenses; “rabbit-eyes”…in short severely myopic to the point of being legally blind.
Back when I would allow vanity to make me suffer, I could hide my infirmity. From 16 to 50, I wore contact lenses. What bliss not to have to hear another joker tell me something I already knew: “Wow, you have really bad eyes.” What good riddance to requests to “let me try them on” followed by revelatory exclamations of “you really are blind.” What joy to to run and flip and handstand myself silly; to forego the sharp knock of hard plastic against my nose when making a clumsy move; to kiss a boy without a fog of hot breath forming before my eyes.
And yet…my bespectacled state—leading to false assumptions as it could have had I not fit the bill—accurately presented the core of me to the world. I was a “bookworm”; a bibliophile; a reader; a girl early inclined to the intellectual, as evidenced by the long hours I spent poring over encyclopedia entries with zeal. When I think of the girl Jeanne, I think of a girl glued to her book. This has been one unswerving truth about me since I learned to read, and my glasses have been my badge of membership to an august, noble club since the age of 8. Further, having to wear those glasses kept me humbler than I might have been otherwise. Even when I turned to the rigid plastic eye scrapers that preceded gas permeable lenses, I could not in those days wear contact lenses round the clock without doing damage to the old corneas. So those who really knew me, knew me me for who I was and am, weak bunny eyes and all.
I did not get my first pair of glasses until, in 1964, an eye doctor came to Most Holy Trinity Grade School to give the pupils a rudimentary eye examination. Or maybe he just gave the exam to those of us students whose squinting, straining expressions and propensity to lean towards the blackboard like magnets to metal clued the nuns in to our condition. However it happened, I was then sent home with a note to my parents reporting that I was in need of a visit to the optometrist.
A couple vivid scenes come to me now, of before and after the phenomenal event of that first pair of glasses.
Of the before stage, I remember at the age of 5 watching an I Love Lucy episode on a small, boxy, be-dialed television set perched on stiletto legs in the lounge at my mother’s place of employment—a small private nursing home. My face was perhaps 6 inches from the screen. It did not occur to me to question why my twin sister did not have to sit so close.
Of the immediate after stage, I remember being in the pew at the church to which the grade school belonged and putting my hand to my eyes to nudge the new prosthetic on the bridge of my nose. Like the good girl I frequently was not, I was facing towards the altar, and I realized that the blurred image of the priest was not the newly sharp and clear image the glasses had so recently revealed to me. What happened?
I was brought to dwell on the topic of lenses through another prompt from Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch. And while I chose to take the literal approach to the challenge rather than the lofty goal of pondering peace (decidedly challenging these days in America and the world), it’s been a good exercise in reflection. Here is the prompt:
September 21, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using a lens. It can be literal, like looking at the world through rose-colored lenses or the need for spectacles. Or you can treat the idea like a perspective, showing how one character might see the same action differently from another. Think locally, globally, culturally. Is there a common lens by which we can achieve peace?
And here is my flash memoir, in which I capture that moment of adjustment to the new and sharply defined world before me.
Father McHugh’s Irish brogue echoed through the vault. He was at the altar, the crucified Christ above him. I didn’t need to see him to know that.
Light streamed through the stained glass windows, illuminating the dusty-rose walls of the nave. So soft. So pretty. I wondered what the inside of a cloud looked like.
I looked towards the altar. Everything had looked newly sharp the day before, as if God had drawn lines around everything. Now Father was all fuzzy again. I squinted. I felt for the new glasses on my face.
My fingers jammed into my nose. I’d forgotten them at home.