Spectacles

 “They have to be here somewhere.”
    I was looking for my glasses: not at the bedside, not on the kitchen counter, not by the sofa, not in the bathroom. Where could they be?
    I reached up my hand, and felt them. I was wearing them.
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    The opposite has happened. I walk to a restaurant, taking a book I mean to read or my computer to do a bit of writing. I find it hard to read a sign at the counter. “You’ve changed your hours?” I can barely make it out. “Yes,” she says, “we’re closing at 8.” I place my order, and try to fill in a tip on the screen. It’s all a blur. And then — only then! — I realize I don’t have my glasses.
    A friend calls just as I get to a table and I tell him. O well, we realize, there’s always touch typing.
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    I needed my first pair when I was closing in on forty. I remember speaking to the optometrist at our cutting-edge, single-site HMO. Instead of music, they had health information while you were on hold. Waiting to make an appointment for my wife with her neurologist, I heard that adults should be checked for glaucoma every so many years. So I was telling the optometrist that I didn’t need glasses but heard that a glaucoma test was a good idea.
    She agreed, but said that while I was there I might as well have the usual eye exam. At the end she said, “You may think you don’t need glasses, and that’s fine, but let me show you what they could do for you.”
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    So I got my first pair, for reading. I had some choices. I said: I want glass glasses, the authentic, real thing. It turns out having glass glasses is not a choice. They could break and that’s dangerous, they weigh more, and so on.
    I said: Well then, why don’t you call them spectacles?
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    That first optometrist also explained to me that my eyes were beginning to go through a process normal to aging, called presbyopia. I said, I’m a priest, and another word for priest is presbyter. She didn’t know about that, but “presbyter” does mean old guy, and presbyopia is what happens with old eyes. She said that starting about the age of 40, eyes lose their ability to focus, and we start to need glasses to read. They continue to get worse for about a decade, she said, and then that process tends to even out. But other things can then happen to your eyes.
    “And then,” she said to me, “you die.”
    I was impressed. This was about February. A young optometrist had just laid out my whole life story from the perspective of my eyes. She set me up for Lent, and I’ve since used the illustration in many a sermon.
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    As we come to Christmas, class, here are some questions for reflection.
    Do you need glasses? Can you find them? What do you see?
    Another baby, another mouth to feed? An old man, moving closer to his death? A young mother, vulnerable to the pain her child may bring to her heart?
    A cold winter, mask-covered faces, fear in the eyes? Disease and death invisibly near to every human touch?
    Wars and rumors of war? Shifting constellations of power?
    The wise read the constellations of their day differently: they saw something new. The shepherds’ eyes enjoyed angelic light. Death would come; nonetheless, the mother’s eyes shined.
    With the right spectacles, this spectacle is holy.
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    My next blog post will be in three weeks. Merry Christmas.

 

 

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."