On my desk sit glasses with silver rims, classic in design, made for general vision. Currently perched on my nose are black frames, more meager in general stature but housing a special breed of glass, “progressive lenses,” they’re called, and specific to those of us who stare at computer screens for compounded hours.
They’re new, these rims, both pairs. I’ve been wearing glasses since early high school, after I got bashed off a dashbard radio as a passenger in a car accident that riddled my vision – the impact broke both orbits and crushed a cheekbone while laying open a tall portion of my left leg when the grill hit the bark of the tree and I took my little flight into Damage Land – but this is the very first time I’ve actually felt old. I simply can’t dammit see clearly any more.
A few months ago, my close-in vision went to fuzz; I missed important events because I was staring at my email in-box but not seeing the messages. I finally saw an ophthalmologist, who gave me the full round of tests, and then said “Wow” when she was handed the paperwork. There are a great many things that suck worse – being on fire, taking a bullet, falling out of a perfectly good airplane – but it’s a special day when a medical professional looks over your vital data and says “Wow” out loud.
Here’s the really crummy part: I got these new glasses, which means now I can see, and being able to see this particular landscape in this time and place is the vision version of getting beaten with sticks. I see the sea rising to devour our cities, choked with plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic plastic, Styrofoam, cigarette butts, anything and everything that floats and never leaves, so much so that great and glorious whales wash up as corpses on the beaches with bellies full of the crap we use to bring our tofu home, poisoned by our leisure, and left to die beside our vacations.
I see a racist, sexist, capitalist failure named Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential charge, actually leading, and I want to tear this clot of 50 states from the innocent ground and hurl it into the Sun. I see someone named Bush actually daring to run. I see someone named Clinton doing the same. I see California without water, Greenland and the caps without proper ice. I smell the sky falling, I hear the ocean rising in its wrath, I feel the heat of it all, like the scouring of deep-grit sandpaper grinding up and down across my back. I see catastrophe writ large, like a billboard prophesying the end of days, broad as the very sky, but not read because no one wants to be bothered.
I see a nation frozen in time, stapled to a doomed economic model, I see culture translated to the faces of those who howled in rage after word came down that the Duggars’ show got canceled, and I stagger in perfect amazement that a program hosting an incestuous pedophile was so brightly lit on something called “The Learning Channel” for so long.
I think of the Stars and Bars, the Confederate flag, the national stomach knot we have been so long enduring and now recently reliving, and I wonder in awe at all this fuss about “heritage.” If your heritage comes down to a dyed patch of cloth, you have no heritage. You have thunderclouds on your brow and a rag on a stick, period. I am a step-son of Alabama, and I may not know much, but I know enough to know that “heritage” is in the bone, the blood, the soul. If you staple your “heritage” to a flap of cloth, you are flotsam on a dead ocean, seeking a buoy you will never find as you are tossed upon doomed and sunless waves.
Such is the curious curse of vision. I see, better now with the new gear, but some things seen cannot be unseen, or forgotten, or forgiven. Some things stick to the glass, to the eyes, to the soul, to the spirit. Some things never leave your eyes, or the mind behind them, or the memory beneath. This has been a season of such, and it promises most solemnly to get worse before there is a breath of a prayer of it getting better.
I have new glasses, and old eyes. I see, and have seen. I think there is nothing so foul on the skin of this dear Earth than wasted potential and missed chances, of opportunities misspent on spending, or a single life lived in vain. Ours is a future quite completely broader than my new eyes can capably encompass. That limitless potential lies fallow. It is, however, there for all who have eyes to see.