Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
This past week, my writing group suggested that we all write about aging. My initial thought was that I didn’t really have anything to write on that subject. I may be firmly ensconced in middle-age, but I am healthy; my main complaints center around my back and shoulders, which don’t always take kindly to being hunched over a computer for hours at a time.
Then I went for a routine eye exam.
Bifocals? What?! Bifocals are what grandmothers wear! This pronouncement by my optician came as quite a surprise. I have long been slightly near-sighted and needed glasses for long-distance, but only in certain circumstances, such as driving at night in the rain. While I could understand I might need a stronger distance prescription, although I hadn’t noticed that I did, the idea that I could need reading glasses as well made no sense.
Suddenly made more conscious of my eye-sight, I realized that yes, indeed things were a bit fuzzy. Individual leaves on trees weren’t clear, and when I’m using my wireless keyboard while sitting in a comfy chair (to rest these sometimes nagging shoulders), I realized the words on the screen, which is a few feet away on the desk, I was squinting at. In fact, as I write this, I have had to magnify the screen more times than I care to admit. And it’s still not sharply focused. This morning I found myself pulling my cell phone away to make the words clearer. Oh, boy.
But, as is the case with most things in my life, I started thinking how to use this experience as a writing opportunity. It occurred to me there had to be a good metaphor here. I need assistance seeing far away and close to, which means there must be a sweet spot, some middle distance where I can see perfectly. But in the everyday where I need to see many different areas clearly, I need a helping hand (well, lens).
Isn’t this what life is like? We all have situations in our lives where we can see clearly. Maybe it’s in our work, where we are so accomplished or practiced that we know exactly what to do, what to say, and can navigate through problems like a expert rafter through white water. Or maybe it’s in our creative work, where our innate talents lie. We can approach the canvas or the page, or the garden plot or wherever else we best express ourselves, and just know what needs to be created. We can make manifest our vision. It’s comfortable here, where things are naturally clear.
But then there are, unfortunately, far more places in our visionary plane where things become unfocused. Something is either just beyond the edge of our ability to see, outside our personal lens of experience or filter of knowledge, and the details of it are unclear. We trust imagination to make up the unknown, we assume, or we ignore it altogether. But, we think we are seeing clearly! It could be the culture of another country, the reality of experience of a family living in deep, debilitating poverty, or even a co-worker’s annoyingly frequent absences from work.
Or, on the other end of the spectrum, sometimes something, or someone, is so close to us that we can’t see it clearly either. It’s the milk carton right in front of our nose on the refrigerator shelf that we just cannot find. It’s a child we don’t realize is on drugs, or our own complexes and biases that we don’t even realize we hold.
Living, working, interacting in any community, from our immediate circle of family and friends to our professional and personal connections, from our hometown neighbors to our worldwide ones, from our in-person relationships to our virtual ones, we have an obligation to make sure we are seeing clearly. It is vital that we are looking at both the person and the situation with as much clarity as possible for the sake of everyone’s well-being and healthy growth.
But, as with my own eyesight, I wasn’t even conscious of the fuzzies until it was bought my attention. Someone helped me see that I wasn’t seeing clearly. I now realize I probably should have been wearing my glasses while driving even during the day (oops!). I also need help seeing — really seeing — my neighbors, whether across the road or across the globe. We need to open our eyes (and our ears and hearts) to their history — their stories — and their personal situations, not some blurred version of what we believe is the “truth.”
Poor eyesight is not an excuse not to see. Choosing not to sharpen your vision, to not focus on and understand the details of the community in which you live and of the people living beside you, can make your life and the lives of others more difficult. It can cause headaches! We must ask questions, listen to the options, research for possible answers to make sure we are seeing with as much clarity as possible.
Is it time for a routine examination? Are we seeing beyond our sweet spots?