Hiding within every disadvantage is a potential advantage. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a whole book about this. For obvious reasons, the hidden advantage is nearly impossible to recognize—until that is, the disadvantage goes away. It’s especially true when the disadvantage has always been there; when it has been an integral part of one’s reality.
I’m referring to my eyesight. I’ve been severely myopic since, well, since I don’t know exactly when. Since I started having scary dreams about the guy with no eyes. Since before my parents figured out that the reason I always clung to the hem of my mother’s skirt was not (only) because I was an overly needy and sensitive child, but because I couldn’t see very well.
Mine is not a garden-variety myopia; it’s not one that can be corrected with a normal set of glasses or contacts, or surgically repaired with Lasix. Nor is it the kind that can be considered either near or far sighted. My personal brand of vision, complicated by astigmatism (irregularly shaped corneas) and keratoconis (mountainous corneas), causes even the most seasoned ophthalmologist to make sympathetic clucking sounds with the tongue and to call in associates to pour over my unusual charts. Technically I have what’s called, “low vision.” Not that far from being considered legally blind.
I’ve coped remarkably well. Like many, I have learned to hide my disability. Over the years, only my lovers and closest friends have been privy to my bedtime look, me in goofy (extremely thick and unattractive) glasses that distort my eyes and make my head looked chopped off on the sides. Said friends have allowed me to delicately grope at them as I try not to trip over steps in dark restaurants; they have cheerfully or moodily accompanied me to outhouses or to the woods on camping and bike trips. And they’ve done their share of worried hand wringing, gotten annoyed, and occasionally thought of me as overly dependent or wimpy. Mostly they have marveled at my grit and commended my ability to do just about everything. I’ve definitely underplayed the challenge.
Through a series of random (random?) events, including the unlikely loss of my only working glasses, I recently found myself in the office of an unknown optometrist with a fresh view on my case, who had the exacting and arduous task of fitting me for an emergency pair of glasses.
I know what you’re thinking. How is it that someone so dependent on glasses could possibly lose them?
My glasses never made it off an early flight from Madrid to Amsterdam. International travel, like night driving and anything out in the woods, requires eyesight management. My personalized flying protocol, takes into account a conflicting set of needs: navigating airports (contacts go in), sleeping on planes (contacts come out) and reading (glasses go on). When I was settled in my seat from Amsterdam to Portland, ready to cozy up and take my contacts out (again) and put my glasses on (again), I realized I didn’t have them. So there I was—blind girl for ten hours. No reading. No movies. Perilous trips to the loo.
I’m sorry. I’ve digressed.
The confident new optometrist insisted that creating a new glasses prescription was beyond ridiculous, since glasses do such a poor job correcting my vision. He sent me to the best guy at the best clinic in town. Where I discovered I had cataracts.
You would think that this was bad news.
Two weeks ago cataract surgery was performed on my right eye (and from the twilight zone of anesthesia I could see the scalpel). The clouded lens was removed and an intraocular lens, customized to my exact prescription was implanted. The vision in my right eye is now close to perfect. The left one is still as foggy and blurred as ever. Until next week, when the left one gets fixed.
I wake up in the morning, open my eyes, and see through my right eye. The clock! The dog’s quivering nostrils! Clouds out the window! Jerry’s stubble!
But here’s the weird part.
The other night at the mirror, just as I caught my thumb and pointer raising up towards my right eye to pinch out the contact lens, to do the very same thing it had done at least 30,000 times over the last four decades, I noticed the strangest flickering thought. Or was it a feeling?
I longed for something that I hadn’t known was precious. When the contacts come out my entire world relaxes… without my having to try. It’s a built–in, free-of-charge, natural fuzzy focus, that I hadn’t known was me. A gift from my eyes. And I will miss that.
And I will find it again.
My advice: Discover what is precious hidden in your hardships.