New Eyes, New Vision

Carol Harley

Collage by my mother Barbara Harley, created to mark the occasion of my 40th birthday. (Detail)

I recently turned 60, and immediately got in line for cataract surgery. My eyesight had become much worse in the past few years. It was time. And I was fortunate to be able to sign up for multifocal lens implants, which held the promise of 20/20 vision. To a girl who has worn eyeglasses since age twelve, the idea was thrilling. Several friends told me “colors will be brighter” sans cataracts (including Rosalie Anders of Interhelp). But . . .

. . . I was truly startled after the right eye’s veil was lifted. A few hours after surgery, I rested under a red fleece blanket. I peeked out around the eye shield’s edge. Suddenly I saw the solid brick-red fleece had acquired an odd “two-tone” effect. My new lens perceived it as more scarlet/pink compared to my left eye. Yes, the world was more vivid–and, quite a few colors had actually changed hue! I quickly discovered that greens were more yellow, blues more cerulean. The most dramatic were certain purples, which now looked less like gray-with-a-hint-of-purple and more like a fresh lilac bloom. For the next four weeks, I amused myself comparing hues. I winked and blinked until my left eye’s surgical date. Now both eyes are aligned, their different hue perception a mere memory.

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
It’s beyond our human ability to fully understand many concepts without personal experience. Now as I literally “see with new eyes” I’ve been prompted to reflect on the bigger picture.

First, I had been unaware of what I had lost. Last year I practically scoffed when people told me “colors will be brighter.” My intention in having the surgery was to address blurry vision and declining ability to focus. Colors were plenty bright already, I thought. (Ha!)

When did the colors grow dim? Why didn’t I notice? Because the changes were small and incremental, over a period of years. We don’t know what we’re missing–just as we cannot see what exists in our blind spots until someone or something helps provide perspective.

As a kid playing in the woods, I didn’t notice the missing chestnut trees. I might never have known about the blight that robbed eastern North America of 3-4 billion castanea dentata if my father hadn’t told me. He missed them. A lot!

Blind Spots, Choices
Let’s be honest. In part due to white skin privilege I had the power to choose my new eyes. Thanks to Interhelp’s Growing Edges work, I’m now more aware of the systemic white-supremacy structures that enable such privilege. I’ve been studying what my formal education neglected to include. It is a profoundly painful set of discoveries, and I feel that this journey is just beginning. Like learning about Earth’s plummeting biodiversity and the rising likelihood of a U.S. nuclear catastrophe, it’s unsettling, uncomfortable and disorienting.

But I’m not alone. Just as I relied on the surgical team and administrative and logistical helpers when I surrendered to the eye surgeries, I am walking with reliable compadres on the path of awareness about injustices. And I am taking steps to learn and practice how to be more present and–hopefully–more skillful and useful at tending and mending the social web. These dance steps are worth learning!


Comments are closed.