My okcupid penpal, Paul, is visiting, so I’ve been showing him around the Cape and therefore slacking on my writing. Today I had to to leave him to his own devices while I went all the way to Sandwich for an eye doctor appointment to see if the eyelash mite infection I was diagnosed with a month ago had cleared up.
It was a gorgeous morning, and I drove towards the mainland underneath a placid blue sky. It was nine-fifteen, but I could still see a thin wafer of white moon above me.
“Hey Eva,” I said to myself, “that little moon looks so insubstantial, but it is actually a massively giant rock out in space, 230,000 miles away, orbiting around us and making the oceans move. Isn’t that amazing?
“It IS amazing, Eva, you’re right! Thanks for reminding me.” I thought.
I got to the doctor’s office and was eventually taken back to the examination room. I tried to explain that I was only there for my eyelash mites, but they had to do all the standard procedures anyway. This involved shining bright lights in my face and putting stinging yellow drops of horribleness into my eyes to check my eye pressure. And after all of that, the doctor told me that my eyelash mite infection was gone and I had nothing to worry about.
So I might have felt as if the doctor’s appointment was a waste of time, except for something else that happened during the examination.
“Read that last line for me,” the nurse had said.
“N, P, R, F, Z.”
“Wow. Okay. Try this one. The last line.”
“T, Q, P, N, L,” I said.
“You have twenty-fifteen vision,” she told me. “Better than perfect.”
“Hurray! How exciting!” I said.
I guess I can see things pretty well.
There’s a story I have told every single class of students I’ve ever taught. I usually break it out when a kid throws a balled-up piece of paper across the room, or tosses a pencil to his friend two desks down.
“Don’t ever, ever throw anything in my classroom ever again,” I always say, putting on my stern-teacher mask.
Then I tell them about my father. “He used to have two green eyes, just like me,” I say, motioning to my face. “But then, one day, when he was a kid, he was outside building a stick fort with his friend.”
I tell them about how the friend was throwing sticks to my dad, and he was catching them and placing them on the fort. Sometimes a kid will groan in anticipation of what’s coming next.
“My dad wasn’t paying attention, and the kid threw another stick and – schluck!” I clap my palm over one of my eyes. “His eye started gushing blood, and he had to go to the hospital.”
I tell them how the eye turned brown from the coagulated blood and how he lost most of his vision in that eye. Because he can only see out of one eye, he also lost his stereoscopic vision. Now, his world looks flat.
“Oh my god,” one of the girls usually says.
“And that’s why,” I conclude, “you don’t throw things in my classroom.”
* * *
Yesterday, Paul and I went to the art museum in Provincetown. We were talking about what it must be like to be an artist. Maybe, we thought, if you have a natural inclination for art, you look at the world and see shapes and angles. Colors and shadows and lines.
“We could probably teach ourselves to look at the world that way,” I said. “But I don’t think I do it naturally.”
“Maybe,” I told Paul, “when you look at the world, you see problems to be solved.” Paul is a physicist and mathematician. “You see patterns and questions. You look at the world and think about how things work, and why.”
I wondered what my dad sees when he looks at his flat world. Maybe his vision is part of the reason why he became a musician.
When I look at the world, I see stories. People become characters. Places become the setting for those characters. The weather sets the mood of the story. I look at the moon, and instead of seeing its shape, instead of thinking about why it orbits the earth, I create a metaphor. I compare it to a communion wafer. I think about how poignant it is that just because something looks small, doesn’t mean that it is. Just because something is far away, doesn’t mean it can’t affect us.
We all look at the world and see different things.
Later, at dinner, I talked about how I want to have kids some day, and Paul asked me why.
“I guess in part I’m selfish,” I said. “It seems like when you have kids, you get to see everything through their eyes. You get to be amazed all over again at how awesome and bizarre and crazy the world really is.”
It got me thinking, though. Do I need kids in order to see this way? Maybe, like training yourself to have an artistic eye, or a mathematical eye, you can train yourself to see your everyday world through the eyes of a child.
That’s why I’ve been reminding myself to really take a look at the moon and the stars and the ocean and the sand and the color green. Too often I take these things for granted. I have better than perfect vision, but sometimes I don’t really see.
I’m going to try to look harder.
How do you think you see the world?
Look around you. What would a child notice? What would amaze them?