The Depth of My Seeing

I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright (bright) Bright (bright) sunshiny day.

Jimmy Cliff, I Can See Clearly Now

As I was getting ready to take a bath, the door suddenly opened, and without knocking, in walked my little sister…not an uncommon occurrence in my family. There’s not a lot of privacy with two younger sisters. I had already taken off my top and snaked off my slacks as well. While water filled the tub, I stood waiting in my panties and brand-new training bra.

Interesting concept that…an instructional undergarment. I never truly understood the function of a training bra. Training for what? But I digress and that of course is a discussion for another day.

Penny hesitated momentarily at the door with her mouth agape, shocked by the sight of her older sister sporting a brassiere. She quickly exited down the hall in the direction of our mother, pausing only long enough to shout back at me, “I’m telling Mom you’re wearing a breer!” Slipping into the bathwater I smiled. Yes, I was proudly wearing a “breer” and taking another step toward coming of age.

Don’t we all share similar milestones along our life’s journey? Losing a tooth, learning to drive, graduating from high school, the first job, marriage, children, grandchildren, all leading sooner than we imagined to retirement and Social Security. Cataract surgery, too, I now recognize as a senior citizen rite of passage.

During the past month I checked that off my list. Whoo! Hoo!

The local experts specializing in cataracts have refined the experience to a smoothly functioning assembly line…timed, efficient, and every detail carefully thought out, planned, and practiced. Throughout the entire process…start to finish…I probably saw my surgeon for less than an hour…including the procedure itself…as he moved from patient to patient, eye to eye. He was friendly, proficient, highly skilled…and he looked like he was about 20 years old. On the other hand, as I sat with my fellow patients waiting for our pupils to dilate, it was very evident that we all grew up with Howdy Doody, watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, learned to drive on a standard transmission, and remembered when kids played outside until the streetlights came on. None of us could remember getting old so quickly. By the way, if for any reason, you should ever need to find a collection of senior citizens, the waiting room of a cataract surgeon hits the jackpot!

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Maine

Over the years, I’ve asked many people what they recall about getting their first pair of glasses. Most told me that they were amazed to realize that there were leaves on the trees…not just a mass of greenery, but individual leaves! Of course, they knew theoretically that there were leaves, but until they got glasses, the leaves remained an amorphous green cloud floating above a solid grey trunk. The removal of my cataracts provided a similar experience. Within a couple of hours of the surgery for my first eye, I was amazed at the clarity, brightness, and color of the world around me. I felt like I was going from an old model television to high definition. When I tried to explain this phenomenon to my granddaughter, who has only known HDTV, she said, “Oh, You mean, like when you get a new iPhone”? Yes, that’s it! That’s it exactly.

I had to wait four weeks before I could get my second eye repaired. Even with one very good eye, I was still finding it difficult to read. My frustration with reading prompted me to proceed with the surgical option in the first place. I struggled to read the required texts for my class, and if I couldn’t get my book club pick in large print, it was a nightmare. As the scheduled date for my second eye approached, I began to wonder. What if it isn’t my eyes that are making reading difficult? What if I’m losing my ability to concentrate? What if I’m just not a reader anymore? What if? What if?”

Surgery for the second eye was scheduled for Wednesday morning at 8:25. A few days later, I found myself lost in the pages of a book. By Tuesday afternoon the following week…a mere six days later… I had finished a book of 566 pages! Granted, this was a book I was highly motivated to read, but it proved that I could still enjoy reading!

I was back!

I was overjoyed at my ability to find pleasure in reading again, but what really surprised me was how quickly I forgot how challenging my sight had been before the surgery. I am already accepting clear vision as a matter of course. Unless I get a smudge on the lenses of my glasses, I forget how difficult it had been to see.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly;

I Corinthians 13:12 KJV

Our brains are so amazing that unless we really focus on an experience and try to hold on to the memory the present pushes it to the back of our minds. The beauty of a summer day, the smile of a grandchild, or the taste of a ripe strawberry will easily supersede the pain of negative experience, and while not truly forgotten it is nevertheless dulled and diminished…at least for a time…allowing us to enjoy the blessings of life that remain. Once the bad haircut grows out it is forgotten.

It has been a little more than a year since I wrote a blog post about what I thought it might be like coming out of the pandemic. I imagined that we were all standing on the threshold, moving from before to after. Of course, at the time, none of us could have envisioned just how vast that threshold was. We knew there would be a time after the pandemic, but it was as nebulous as the leaves on the trees pre-glasses.

As more of us are vaccinated and can once again gather in person, I find that it is becoming difficult to remember how painfully lonely I was for months on end as we avoided one another and kept each other safe by social distancing and self-isolating.

The weekly Zoom calls that provided at least a modicum of human interaction during the dark winter months are slowly being discontinued in favor of tentative in-person connections. Mask mandates are being relaxed and I’m finding that lipstick is once again part of my beauty routine. Our lives are quickly falling into a pattern that is comfortable and familiar. We can’t say we’re back, but we’re definitely on the way.

I don’t ask for the sights in front of me to change, only the depth of my seeing.

Mary Oliver

I am no longer worried that I may die from this dreadful infection, but I am worried that we…I…may forget the lessons learned about the value of human connection, human touch, and what’s really important. Rather than seeing the pandemic as the tree with undefined leaves, I might gather those truths that rest among the first leaves of Spring like the blossoms and press them to my heart instead of between sheets of waxed paper. This time of COVID has been painful, frightening, frustrating, and dangerous, but it also revealed a great deal of beauty in the way people supported one another with love, understanding, and kindness. Perhaps, as we emerge, we could remind each other of the blessings and gifts of grace this unique time has given us. Together we might be the people we hoped we’d be…the people we were meant to be.

Doing My Homework

After this long winter of isolation, when my church offered a class on spiritual exploration, I jumped at the chance. Who knew there would be actual…homework? I haven’t done homework in years. The first assignment was to write a spiritual autobiography documenting our personal religious journey. These we would share together in class. Yikes!

Writing an autobiography of any kind would have been easier if I had taken notes along the way.  As it is, my memories are written on post-it notes, scraps of yellowing paper, and captured in photographs without location or dates…all stuffed in boxes, tucked between the pages of books, left unattended in old suitcases, and scattered across the top of my desk.  To truly make sense of all this ephemera would take much longer than the time allotted for the assigned task, but perhaps I can begin by sorting the debris into stacks and piles.

Gathering the bits together, I realized that I have forgotten a great deal of my life. That realization caused me to feel embarrassed and somehow lacking until I recalled the words of the Irish priest and poet John O’Donahue. “I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”  I think that is pretty much how I’ve lived my life… simply being carried along by the current, paddling hard through the rapids and around the rocks, enjoying the sun on my face when drifting on the quiet water, and approaching each new bend with curiosity, wonder, and courage…as well as a wee bit of trepidation and hesitancy. I haven’t spent a great deal of time looking back at the water that carried me.

The Chippewa River…Sylvan’s Solace
October 2020

Creating a lifeline and guessing where I am on it reminded me of when a new woman was invited to join Book Babes, my Vermont book club. She said that she’d like to ask three questions to get to know us.   All of them were unusual for getting acquainted questions, and I’ve forgotten two of them, but the third stuck with me.  She asked each of us in turn how long we wanted to live.  I replied that I wanted to live until I died.  My answer was in no way intended to be cheeky or flip. As I age, I realize that It’s not the length of life that concerns me. It is the loss of meaning, purpose, and joy that worries me. On the other hand, my definition of meaning, purpose, and joy are also constantly evolving.  I have had the example of women who lived…and are living…wonderful active lives well into their nineties, but I have also seen my grandmother disappear into Alzheimer’s. Yes, I definitely want quality…but then… quantity would be nice too.

There are a finite number of marbles in my jar…just so many big trips and grand adventures left.  I’m angry that the pandemic has robbed me of some of those cat-eyes and clearies…places I wanted to go and plans I wanted to make…but in some sense, living through a pandemic is a pretty big shooter as marbles go…a once in a century adventure… just not one I would have chosen.

An Unknown Number of Marbles in The Jar
Photo credit: Pixabay

 “I was going to decide whether I had a marble-worthy day based on how I felt, not based on what I did…I want to approach my time moving forward with an infinite mindset. I want to “feel” supported, loved, seen and I want to depend on my circle of truth-tellers who I’ve chosen to be there for me.”

Maria Shriver, Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper

Even with so many pieces of my spiritual journey misplaced, lost, and forgotten, I am finding the task of condensing it to a manageable size without resorting to an “and then” story very challenging.  Deciding what…or how much…I want to share is also part of the process. Then, too, as I continue my sorting, I discover with very few exceptions…people, places, and events don’t fit easily into a single category.  Most of them overlap, very few stand-alone.  The same people and places keep appearing, transforming, and reappearing. So, I continue to sort and re-sort then sort again.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

African Proverb

As I modify and alter the collection of souvenirs and guidebooks from my spiritual journey, a pattern emerges.  Throughout my entire life, I have been supported, shaped, and influenced by my relationship with people…my parents, my siblings, my husband, my children, my teachers, my long-time friends, my new friends, and even momentary connections with strangers. Together we have shared deep discussions about life, spirituality, and ethics, as well as the going rate for the tooth fairy, which way the toilet paper should hang, and jokes on the level of a Fifth-grade boy.  We have held each other in times of loss and pain and spent hours just sitting side by side in silence.

These people have joined me in my travels too. Together we have stood in awe in the mountains of Sedona, been lost inside St Basil’s Cathedral, slept in a wee cottage on the shore of Loch Fyne, watched a storm brew in the Atlantic Ocean, emerged from a 5000-year-old burial mound at Newgrange, and enjoyed countless hours in a darkened theatre in Ontario. Each experience has revealed another facet of what I recognize as sacred and divine. Through my relationships, I have understood, found meaning, and been blessed by these revelations.

“A good friend listens to your adventures. Your best friend makes them with you.”

Unknown

As I stuff all the bits and pieces back in the containers from which I gathered them, it occurs to me that perhaps we write an autobiography not so much for others as for ourselves. Through writing, we give voice to what we already know. I may leave out the twists and turns in the telling, but my path has led me to the perfect destination…the realization that human connection and traveling are spiritual practices. Talking with friends, being with my sisters, planning short jaunts and long trips are no longer inessential distractions or rewards. They are necessary, important, and sacred—what a delightful surprise.

“Do you know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are? Anchor chains, airplane motors, and train whistles.”

George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life

Of course, during this pandemic, those were the most difficult things for us to do…travel and be with others, yet we are resilient. We have discovered ways to connect and share our lives without being physically close. We read maps, make plans, and create itineraries for future adventures even as we explore new ways to make meaning and find purpose from our living rooms, dens, and kitchens. And so, the journey continues, and isn’t that an adventure in itself?

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Rumi

I completed my assignment with time to spare. It was then I remembered the second part…the additional task…write your own epitaph. If one day you stumble across a slab of granite with this one carved into it…you’ll know that it’s me.

“I told you I was sick”

Cemetery on Elm Street, Montpelier, VT