the blind man and his hammer

I got glasses a few weeks ago. A pair of prescription reading glasses. Nothing flashy, just tortoiseshell-colored acetate frames. They’re lined with a pale purple on the inside, but you can only see that from certain angles. You’d be surprised how long it took to find frames without rhinestones or flowers or exaggerated horn-rims.

Or maybe you wouldn’t have been surprised. Maybe you have more experience with optometrics than I do. This is the first pair of glasses I’ve ever had, so everything was new to me. For one thing, I had no idea how long it was going to take. I had to wait a month for an appointment, which rolled steadily through the various parts of the eye exam but stalled when I tried to choose a pair of frames. There were hundreds, but once I’d vetoed the clunky, chunky, dainty, sparkly, logo-emblazoned or otherwise just-not-me options, there were…none. So then I had to wait a week for some special-order bling-free frames and those were better but not quite the thing, either, so I waited another week for these frames, which are just the thing, but then it took another week for the lenses to be made and installed, and even after that I had to have the sides adjusted for fit. I should have realized that you can’t just walk in at 9 a.m. and walk out with custom glasses at 9:30, but I was so eager to have these things that I caught myself checking my phone every hour during that last week, hoping for the message that would bring my glasses home to me.

Through the whole process, though, the thing that really got my attention wasn’t the astonishing number of ways that glasses can be ugly, or even the way I can stretch a minor errand into a month-long drama. No, what really surprised me was that so many people tried to cheer me up.

The optometrist and the ophthalmic technician both separately suggested that I might just think of these as “work glasses,” as if they were an awkward occupational encumbrance, like a haz-mat suit, and not something I would want to acknowledge in my life proper. The optician whose job it is to help people pick out frames kept telling me that since I was just getting reading glasses, I could “at least have a little fun with them.” As if a playful dose of pink or cheetah-print might lessen the pain. Away from the eye doctor’s office, friends grimaced and said sympathetic things like: “Yeah, it sucks getting old.”

Look, I don’t know why so many people are distressed by corrective lenses, but I quite like these glasses. In fact, my feelings toward these glasses are about as strong as is possible for inanimate objects. I love having them. I love wearing them. I love them so much I don’t want to take them off even when I don’t need them. They don’t make me feel old. They make me feel competent.

This past winter, whenever I tried to work, I ended up with a skull-crushing headache by noon. If I needed to sew anything, I spent five minutes stabbing thread toward the needle. If I had to untangle a necklace, I took it outside where the light was better. My handwriting is a bit unorthodox, I know, but my calendar became a mystery that I could barely decipher. One night I opened the dictionary to settle a dispute with Ryan and the pages shimmered and flooded in a wash of tiny print. But now? Now I can work for so long that Frances has to lay her head in my lap to beg for dinner. When I want to read, I put on my glasses and read. Threading the sewing machine? Pulling out a splinter? Painting my toenails? I put on my glasses, and I do it with pleasure. Right now, writing this? I’m wearing my glasses.

These things are like magic. And, like magic, they’ve brought out my better self.

Ordinarily I am about as careful with my stuff as is the average two-year-old. I shove my clothes into the dresser whether they are folded or not. I leave silver earrings on the bathroom counter. I kick good shoes onto the floor. The windshield on my truck has been cracked since September. But I tuck these glasses into their case as soon as I take them off and I polish their lenses at the first hint of a smudge and even though they have a replacement guarantee, I keep them far away from Copernicus the Destroyer.

I feel grateful to them, for one thing. I couldn’t see up close and now I can and—although I am also fond of my other senses—I really like being able to see. But there’s something else, too. I have a lot of bad habits and one is my habit of just putting up with crap. Mentally I tend toward depression and last year was a fairly bad year on that front and I was feeling hopeless and helpless and was treating myself even less well than I treat my belongings. Who cares, I thought. Why bother. Nothing is ever going to get better.

And yet, when I realized I couldn’t see, I got glasses. It’s a small thing, I know, and no more than you would expect from an adult. It seems too obvious to mention: I can’t see, I need glasses. But someday I’ll try to explain about depression and how it sucks all volition right out of my cells. Out of my mitochondria even, until the smallest problems seem insurmountable and the biggest ones seem like cosmic punishment for the crime of being me.

When I’m depressed, I believe to my core that if something is going wrong, it’s because I deserve to be unhappy, therefore I can’t do anything to fix it. As you might imagine, this is rather a self-perpetuating cycle. But in this instance, I did do something to fix it. I got set up with vision insurance. I asked friends to recommend doctors. I made an appointment. I picked out frames. I solved the problem. It wasn’t a big problem, but I solved it. And therefore I can solve other problems, too. Every time I put these glasses on, I am reminded that even if I am getting older, even if I complicate everything, even if what I want is not what everybody else wants, even if it takes me a long time, I can make things better.

So no, thank you. I don’t need any cheering up just now.

A friend of mine has an eleven-year-old daughter. I’ve known the child since she was a month old and she is one of the coolest people around. She’s a talented artist and a great student and plays both violin and piano. I bumped into her last week at a concert and noticed she was wearing glasses, which is new. They were blue and green, kind of square-shaped, and refreshingly bling-free. I thought they looked great and I asked her how she felt about them.

She grinned and leaned in toward me: “Aren’t they wonderful? I can see again!”

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