The occasional observations of Carolyn Kephart, writer

Saturday, January 05, 2008

This Sense Most Essential

4:58 PM PST, January 5, 2008

For sheer utter torment that teaches a lesson, a speck of grit under a contact lens can really be an eye-opener.

I have extreme congenital myopia, near-sightedness so bad that without glasses and contact lenses life’s one big blur. If you sat three feet away from me and grinned your widest, I wouldn’t be able to gauge your facial expression with my naked eyes. It amazes me that people can wake up in the morning and actually see the world around them clearly from the get-go.

Back in the days when my condition wasn’t correctable, history suffered—the emperor Nero, whose well-documented affliction made him paranoid to the point of insanity, is a notable example. Even when remedies came along, rulers didn’t use them since use implied weakness, and thus Louis XVI, though expert at the meticulous craft of locksmithing (he could focus to a couple of inches, as I can), had no way of judging the expressions on the faces of his courtiers or the citoyens, with disastrous results; it didn’t help that his wife Marie Antoinette was blind to all save her flatterers. Robert B. Edgerton, writing about the Crimean War in his book Death or Glory, notes that “Eyeglasses were worn by a few officers at this time, but many hopelessly near-sighted officers were so vain that they chose to do without them”—certainly an enhancement to calamity. In the present day it’s by no means unusual, so I hear, for near-sighted members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) to forego their wonted eyewear during re-enactments no matter what; I can only imagine how many tent-ropes get tripped over.

I’d probably have been a very different, no doubt happier person had I been born with perfect vision, but time has made me a counter of blessings. Bad sight beats none at all, and a childhood as Four Eyes made me fulfill the stereotype to the hilt, giving me the infinite world of books in return. As the old song has it, wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.


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