A.V.Walters

Presbyopia

(Where the heck is that?)

I am a person full of theories, and I think that I just naturally look for the patterns of order in the universe. I’m not saying my theories always make sense–they’re certainly never subjected to the challenges of science, or peer review. I look for meaning in the little details. This has always been true of me, I’m given to rumination and to trying to make sense of things. I believe in developmental phases, both hard-wired and those triggered by a combination of chronology and circumstance. We all know of the “terrible twos”, and the agony of adolescence. (For kids and parents.)  We know that there are acquisitional phases and times to consolidate our gains–those things that we’ve learned and are now solidly under our belts. I know that there are new and different phases continuing through the whole continuum of human existence that are not yet recognized. Indeed they could not have been, because too few lived long enough for any such phenomena to be observed, tested, catalogued and acknowledged.

Now with life expectancies stretching easily into the eighties and nineties, there are new paths to chart, even as we’re only just beginning to get a handle on the fifties and sixties. (I think we did the forties back in the sixties, if you know what I mean—the recognition of the mid-life-crisis seems deeply cemented in the movies of my youth.) I’m a trailing boomer, so I’m following in the footsteps of the developmental stages of the largest demographic bulge ever studied. If they’d just get it figured out, aging will be a veritable yellow brick road for me. However, while some things are obvious, the connection to meaning that I’m seeking, is less understood. In the crevices of this process I’m looking, maybe in vain, for reasons. What rhyme or reason is there to this process that, on some days, just feels like an inexorable death spiral? Still, if you hit your fifties and things aren’t starting to fall into place, in terms of world-view…ya gotta wonder.

That brings me to vision. As a kid I had incredible acuity. My brother and I were the eagle-eyed of my family, taking after our mother.  She told us that this kind of vision was a special gift, and nobody could take it away. She was only in her early thirties at the time, with eyes like a hawk and nary a glimmer that it wouldn’t always be the case. So, in our forties, my brother and I took our failing vision as some kind of personal insult. I suppose we could have, and should have, taken note of our dear mum’s progression of ever-thickening specs, but we didn’t. In my mid-forties I just flat-out refused to believe that my vision was failing. (Hey, my mom said that nobody could take it away!) That came at a high price because as time went by, I failed to notice that I was reading less and less. Sewing and weaving fell by the wayside—too busy, I told myself. But, I still obsessed in the garden, its open-air setting fit my advancing presbyopia quite nicely.

When I came to Two Rock the fireplace in my lovely, rented house had been painted over so many times that you could hardly tell it was tile. The outermost layer was metallic gold–and that had to go. So, I asked Elmer if I could strip it down. Of course he quizzed my on my intended method and, when it sounded like I knew what I was doing, he gave the okay. I cranked-up the hot air gun, grabbed a putty knife and slowly, peeling off about eighteen layers of paint, revealed an incredible Arts and Crafts era, tile fireplace. It’s a gem. Elmer was thrilled with it. Not long after that, I found myself struggling to read regular-sized print. For some time I’d been squinting at labels in the grocery store–even started to carry around a pair of dime-store “cheaters” in my purse, and I just cursed the world for using such ridiculously small type. But finally, I had to face it–there I was, middle-aged, newly on my own after a long-term, failed marriage and suddenly (okay, not so suddenly), blind as a bat.

Digging-in my heels, every inch of the way, I finally made the dreaded appointment to get my eyes checked, where it was confirmed. Biology had turned on me and bit me in the ass–I was no longer the super-hero of vision I had once been. I ordered the eyeglasses, progressives, but I was surly about it. Elmer’s almost two decades my senior but he doesn’t wear glasses. (But his friends make jokes about it and it’s common knowledge that he’s a terrible hunter because he can’t see to shoot.)  I railed. My parents laughed. My brother commiserated. Then, (with a dirge, rather than fanfare) my new specs arrived.

And what a shock. I could actually read, again. I could see the instruments on the dashboard. (I wondered how long that light had been on!) Who knew it was so bad? And, oh my god, the work on the fireplace really sucked! It turned out that I hadn’t done a very good job removing all of the paint, after all. Sure, you could see the tile, but it had a shabby-chic look that hadn’t been my intention. So, I went over the whole thing, using a dental pick, no less. (Apparently Elmer never noticed how bad a job it was, confirming that he can’s see either!) Now, the fireplace looks really good. But, it made me wonder–what else had I missed before I finally broke down and got those glasses? How much of my life had been out of focus? Maybe it explained a lot. How lucky I am that that kind of blindness brought me here.

And just what purpose does losing one’s vision serve? I’m looking for the deeper meaning, here. I mean, I’m a far shot from being pushed out to sea on an ice-floe. There’s still plenty of tread on these tires. Nonetheless, a century ago, most of the women my age didn’t make it this far. This aging business is largely uncharted territory. So, exactly how are we served by failing eyesight? I’d hate to believe that it’s just a senseless result of decline. Of course, being who I am, I have a theory about that. I think that far-sightedness forces us to teach the younger generation the skills they’ll need, that we mastered earlier, but can no longer do. It’s not lost on me that, uncorrected, my current comfortable focal distance is just right for looking over someone’s shoulder–to watch and check their work. I’ve gone from the age of super-vision to the age of supervision. Where it not for this decline, we’d all just go on doing everything ourselves, and not pass on the know-how. Still, eyeglasses are a godsend, even though they may put a wrinkle in the natural order of things.

Well, that’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it! I feel it’s so much more comforting than the only other rationale that occurs to me–I don’t want to face that not being able to see close, up may have been symbolic of my life’s circumstance, that I could see everything at a distance, perfectly–outside my own sphere–but not the important things that were right under my nose. Maybe, like the fireplace, things had been falling apart for some time, but I just couldn’t see it. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not so pessimistic that I’d want to countenance that as a phase of living. I’m just saying…

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