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MARTHA SEZ: ‘They look at me with expressions of polite perplexity’
November 9, 2018

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One summer night, at a block party on Market Street in Keene Valley, some sketchy cloud cover dissipated and the heavens revealed the most astonishing sight: a huge, brilliant full moon, encircled with a rainbow halo.

The heavens revealed it to me, at any rate. None of my neighbors seemed to be able to see this wondrous freak of nature. Oh yes, they could see the full moon, all right-awesome, they said, and amazing-but not its rainbow halo.

I kept collaring my neighbors, demanding to know whether they could see the halo, and the answer was always no. Perhaps, I was forced to conclude, the wondrous freak of nature was me.

A kindhearted young mother consoled me-and I have always loved her for this-by assuring me that the rainbow halo was real; I was the only one who could see it right, she said.

It would have been pleasant to believe that I was blessed by some spiritual state of grace not shared by others on the block, but, as I later learned, there was a scientific explanation. The beautiful halo was an illusory effect caused by cataracts developing in the lenses of my myopic eyes. These cataracts affected my vision in other ways that were not so positive.

Driving after dark became nightmarish. Headlight beams of oncoming traffic blinded me. The glare was intense, and I wondered: What is wrong with these people, driving with their brights on?

During the day, my vision was dimmer. Looking through the cataracts in my eyes was like trying to see through dirty windows. Colors were dulled, and it was more difficult to see the nuanced differences between them. Brown or purple? Dark blue or black? Orange or shocking pink? It was like trying to ascertain the color of a pillow in a darkened room.

The changes were gradual. Had they taken place suddenly I might have realized sooner what was happening, but eventually they were too obvious to ignore.

I know an artist who tells me that he used to have spectacular vision. He could see individual people standing on distant mountain peaks, he says.

He told me, "Someone said 'Your painting is awfully graphic,' because I was painting every blade of grass, and I said, you told me to paint what I see, and that's what I see."

Then he got cataracts, and his vision changed. Working for FEMA, he traveled to Las Vegas, and the glare from the streets after dark overwhelmed him so that he couldn't drive.

As his vision grew worse and worse, he lost that fine edge he had always taken for granted.

Then, like so many people, he had his lenses replaced and was delighted to have his eyesight back.

He is glad he had the experience, he says, because seeing in different ways has made him a better painter. He no longer takes his eyesight for granted.

A woman I know said that she cried after her cataract operation because she could see colors again.

It really is a startling transformation. Colors seem to glow, as if someone had just turned on the light. I have been nearsighted all of my life until now, and I am still experiencing the thrill of being able to see without glasses.

"Look at that!" I keep telling people. "That's an oak tree. I never knew that tree was an oak tree. I can see the separate leaves. Look at the trees on that mountain! Look at those birds! Hey, I can recognize people in cars. There goes Teresa." They look at me with expressions of polite perplexity, and it occurs to me that they have always been able to see these things, while I just pretended to. Wow.

My friend Margaret, who has long complained that I don't wave at her when I drive by, says that now she will find out if it really was because I couldn't see, or if I am a snob. Yes, that is the down side, I said.

I'm learning to look around. I never bothered before. I just concentrated on objects within my range of vision.

Eventually I will stop going on and on about my new life-changing vision. Meanwhile, my sweet neighbor from the block party is calling me Wonder Rainbow Moon Woman, and an old friend I haven't seen in many years wrote to me on Facebook, "Mart, I always thought your halo was real." Well, it used to be.

Have a good week.

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