ögonblick

“See,” the eye doctor says calmly, pointing at the screen. He clearly feels pretty comfortable talking to me, having within the first five minutes of our meeting explained his reasons for believing in multiple parallel universes (“because it sounds cool”). This is just one of the things you get when you answer the all-too-common question of  ‘What is it you study, then?’ with the solemn one-word answer: ‘Physics.’

“This is how you see the world at night.” He points again to the monitor, which displays a picture of a semi-truck racing down a highway at what I can only assume is a speed only just dangerous enough to scare patients into correcting their night-vision. The headlights of the truck are smudged back, leaving little luminescent trails behind them as the truck supposedly rushes forward. He reffers me next to a different version of the same truck picture, but this time the light trails are gone. The headlights of the truck are perfectly confined to their little square shapes, and they’ve taken on a bluish quality. This, apparently, is how the world is supposed to look.

Pointing again, the good doctor then shows me an image consisting of two circular shapes that I would have at first mistaken to be  gravitational field maps of some strange planet. They are of course, my eyes—and the large, red, half-moon shapes brushstroked across the lower hemisphere of each are fine-structure aberrations. He explains that technology has improved since the last time I got my eyes checked ten years ago (as one would hope, I suppose) and optometrists can now correct even more subtle imperfections in vision with digitally crafted lenses. This time instead of being sent off from the optometrist and into into the world with the cheerful verdict of “congratulations, you have 20/20 vision!” and a lollipop, I get “well, you’re still 20/20, but we can do better now,” and the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that if I dare step out the door, I’m liable to be flattened by a speeding semi-truck with blurry headlights.

If I had been wearing glasses, they would have begun to steam up with anger. I stubbornly tell the doctor that I like my vision. I’d never noticed blurring of lights at night before, and the way I see things now, is, as far as I can tell, no different from the way I’ve always seen things. “I’m not trying to change your life,” the doctor replies. He’s probably heard this one before. “I just want you to know that you’re not really seeing what’s actually there.”

On Christmas a few days later, I look at all the little lights on the tree and the candles on the table, and can’t help but think that the halos I see around them, that I have seen my whole life, are nothing more than the photographic effects of biological imperfections. What I had always taken to be the ethereal nature of Christmas lights is actually little more than a filtered distortion of reality. The next time I’m on the freeway at night I look a little more carefully and sure enough, the halos are there—more strongly around the red lights than the white ones—but there all the same.

My uncle claims that his colorblindness makes him more adept at spotting hidden lizards and toads, camouflaged in tall grasses and at the edges of ponds; a useful trick, if you are my uncle. Furthermore, he continues, the visible red veins in his cheeks, closer to the outer layer of his skin, act to keep his face warm in harsh weather; a trait that he claims has been passed down through the generations from his seafaring viking ancestors, and to this day comes in quite handy when fishing in the writhing waters of Sunny San Diego. Thus, he says,  he represents a further-evolved specimen of a human, and a boon to our race.

Evolution and aberration are in close company, Biology (and my Uncle) tells us, and thanks to one or the both, like most people I have the ability to see something that’s not “actually there.”  But knowledge of this makes me wary, and I am reminded of Mark Twain’s pity for doctors: to a doctor the blush in a woman’s cheek is as much shy beauty as it is the symptom of a fever. Or how Twain himself could no longer sense any mystery or mysticism in the Mississippi because as a river boat captain; his mind was perpetually obsessed with the dangers that lay beneath the water. In short, awareness breeds imperfection. But it is these ‘imperfections’ that the mind is drawn to and that sentiment is unwittingly heaped upon, regardless of awareness.

So, thank you doctor. I’ll keep my halos, until of course the threat of a semi-truck flattening actually becomes viable. I once watched “The Lord of the Rings” on a high definition TV and it looked, to put it eloquently, like a piece-of-crap daytime soap opera. It was, essentially, a perversion of nature. “Your vision could be better, but you don’t have any trouble seeing,” the doctor says at last in what is somewhat confusion of terms. All at once I feel like he is asking me to do something along the lines of making a choice between a blue pill and a red pill.

“No, of course not,” I say confidently, reminding myself not to get so dramatic about a routine eye appointment.  I can see every single pore on your face, is what I want to say. And besides, digitally-crafted lenses sound expensive.

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One Response to “ögonblick”

  1. michael9murray Says:

    Empathise here. I have been going through a series of hearing tests. My left has always been bad.
    I was shown graphs of befores and afters of minor corrections, and of the ideal.
    My hearing and me have grown up slowly together. What I really want, and he can’t give, is to be better at how I am now. I do not want this statistical ideal.
    Consequently, I have not followed up E.N.T. explorations etc

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