Teri Orr: Amazing grace
I woke up Thursday morning and you know what I saw?
Every detail of every single thing.
The gnarly grainy knots on the Japanese maple tree outside my bedroom window. The nuances of shading on that bark. The luminescent spring green — the leaves on the aspen tree — each of them individually separate from the next. The slated asphalt roof tiles of the house next door. The enormous brazen magpie who looked majestic and not at all annoying — fluffy feathered, head cocked, looking straight into my room. It was as if I suddenly had vision like a zoom lens. I could actually see the bright world in such fine detail it was disconcerting. Dizzying.
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I know — you’re wondering exactly which magical gummy bear or piece of chocolate I ingested to have such an enlightened moment. But it wasn’t that. My spectacular start to my morning came after my second eye surgery to remove the second cataract from my eyes. As those who have gone before me know — that surgery is a quick outpatient procedure. The eye is numbed, the damaged lens removed and a new bionic lens replaces it. You wake up 20 minutes later from the procedure and you can already see differently … better.
I have needed glasses since I was 10 years old. Probably earlier but that’s when I was officially diagnosed. Needed them to read and drive and cook and sew and write. My eyes have always been my weakest body part.
In elementary school — where kids are notoriously cruel — my classmates were just that when I showed up in my first ugly pair of glasses. The teacher had suggested to my mother that I seemed to have a hard time reading the blackboard. My mother — foundation of warmth — said I was lazy. The bold teacher spoke to her again a few months later. After the eye exam — my single many-times-divorced-already mother — declared I would be costing her even more money. She picked the cheapest, ugliest pair of black metal sturdy frames.
It wasn’t until seventh grade I was allowed to pick out my own glasses — as long as they were on the lowest — least expensive shelf. I quickly fell in love with those iconic, finned, white mother-of-pearl glasses. Yes, it was the ’60s. Somewhere there is a school picture of me — that year — wearing those glasses with a bad side part in my uneven mousy brown hair — in a madras shirt I had sewn myself in home economics. It is a study in all things awkward.
My eyes were never good material for contacts. So my vanity usurped my sanity and I would simply not wear glasses when it seemed uncool. By the time I was a teenager — it seldom felt cool.
Somewhere in my 20s I learned my prescription could be made to fit inside sunglasses and that was a game changer. I would invest in fabulous sunglasses and wear them all the time. I could see clearly with them on — and I looked cool (or so I told myself). I was often wearing those dark glasses long, long after the sun had left the sky.
Reading and sewing — which were my escapes of choice in the ’70s — required my clear glasses to do the work. Eventually I needed reading glasses and distance glasses. But by now, wearing glasses held less shame and stigma and the choices were widely varied. I looked at them as a fashion statement. And a necessary evil.
I “made do” and moved along. I rarely thought about my eyes. Good or bad. And my dark glasses are so often over my eyes people sometimes have to ask me to take them off so they can see my eyes when I talk. Conversely, for a long time I would push my glasses up on my head in effort to look cool. Think Jackie O — with none of her style points. Once I did that, I was rendered legally blind again (in my right eye). It wasn’t until a former City Council person (back in the ’90s) told me I was such a snob that it took me up short. I thought I was wholly accessible then as editor of the paper. The woman said to me, “I see you at the post office all the time and you never acknowledge me.” I thought about it for a minute and I said — Are my glasses on my head? And she said of course they are! That seems to be your style.
I decided in the interest of covering City Hall and in fairness to a perception I had created — confession was best. I told her if my glasses were on my head, please think of it as code there should be a German Shepherd nearby. I literally wasn’t seeing her.
And you know — that changed our relationship. To this day she will either get right in front of me and say I know you can’t see me so I’m gonna come to talk you about… or she will say I like your new glasses which generally means I have acknowledged her without a prompt.
There are many, many, many stories of my vision mistakes. Mistaking the moose for a giant ugly horse stands out. But there are hundreds more — mistakes of people and buildings or kitchen appliances. And now those stories will simply be history. These eyes are seeing the soft pinkish white of the apple tree blossoms in my backyard. The screaming magenta pink of the crabapple flowers in the front yard. The variation of lavender and deep purple of the lilacs just starting to open.
This weekend I plan to use my new eyes to see in new ways. The beauty was always here. It was me that needed adjustment. Probably most days but certainly Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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