St. Anthony and the Contact Lenses

Readers have noted, with varying amounts of good and ill-will, that some of my blog entries are afflicted with typographical errors. It’s true, and there’s a good reason for it. My contact lenses, which I cannot at the moment afford to replace, are finely coated with what a friend says is protein — not the good kind that builds muscle, but the bad kind that…well, makes a person feel like he’s peering out of a frosted-over windshield. Each lens has patches that remain perfectly clear; if I can maneuver one of those so that it lands smack on my pupil, all is well. If not, then, as we’ve seen, I might end up composing in cipher.

But even protein-rich contact lenses are better than none at all. If I hadn’t accepted this on faith, I’d have discovered it a few mornings ago, in those frantic minutes when I woke up to find them missing. When I say “missing,” I mean they were missing from my eyes, which is where they were sitting cozily when I fell asleep.

You see, nearly every night, sleep sneaks up on me while I’m reading in bed. It’s been like this since I was very young. “Have a NIGHT!” my mother would scream, meaning, prepare for the end of the day by getting undressed, removing your contact lenses and switching off the lamp. Well, that might work for most diurnal creatures, but not for me. The business of sleep has always been a catch-22. If I court it by observing the prescribed rituals, it will never come. If I play coy by lying in bed fully dressed, contact lenses in, trying to make sense o Thomas Merton, it will pounce and pin me for a healthful eight hours.

At some point that night, I must have stirred. Feeling a speck of dust between one of my lenses and my eye, I probably removed them, and, too groggy to make it all the way to the bathroom, placed them one of the books that tends to pile up at my bedside. If the book was, as I suspected, The Art of the Personal Essay, an 800-page anthology edited by Phillip Lopate, then it was a saner move than it sounds. The cover is white; my contact lenses are tinted blue — not in order to change the color of my eyes, but in order to announce their presence should they fall on bathroom tile. Whenever they visit a crowded place, a friend of mine buys his absent-minded wife a balloon to hold. Same idea.

But when I checked the cover of Lopate, they weren’t there. They weren’t on the covers of Zorba, the Greek or Granta 54: Summer, 1996, either. Brushing my fingertips against the carpet in a rough perimeter, I felt nothing. And here, finally, is where I began to panic.

Yhe contact lenses I’d been wearing were the only ones I owned. I’d had a spare pair, but a few weeks earlier, the management of my apartment complex announced that a pest-control company would be spraying down every unit, and ordered us residents to clear off all shelves and drawers. I’d put my spare contacts in a large Glad bag along with my other toiletries, my travel iron, my boxes of envelopes, some DVDs, my dustpan and other items, and set them on my bed. When it came time to unpack, the dustpan and the contact lenses were gone. I chalked it up to the price of doing business with a rental company.

I should also explain just how nearsighted I am, and why I don’t own a pair of glasses. The answer to the first is: very. I wore glasses until I was thirteen, and they were of such a thickness as to make a boy look like a genius, and a man look like a serial-murdering retardate. Thirteen years of that is enough; I no longer wish to appear so, even before God. The prescription? Exact figures escape me, but it made the Ft. Hamilton eye doctor who examined me on behalf of the Marine Corps scream at me for wasting his time and Uncle Sam’s. And this was in the last year of the Cold War, when willing bodies were in demand.

Like Oedipus hunting an errant pebble of cocaine, I crawled along the floor of my bedroom, picking up anything that looked like it might be a contact lens. At a distance of more than three inches, this included everything from a tangle of hair to a shred of paper from an old pack of cigarettes. After fifteen minutes, I was still shy contact lenses, but my floor, I had to admit, was cleaner than it had been in weeks.

Now it was time for real panic — the hyperventilating, ask-why-me-O-Lord panic I told myself that my contact lenses couldn’t have gotten up and walked away. Much as it sounded corny, like something a third-grade teacher might say (and which mine probably had), its logic was irrefutable. Just as I as stepping back from the abyss, I heard myself wondering why I hadn’t invoked the aid of St. Anthony.

This in itself was cause for alarm. Besieged by alien thoughts is considered a symptom of insanity, and imploring the aid of saints is not the sort of thought I usually have. One reader of mine remarked that Catholics of a certain generation grow ashamed of their grandparents’ style of piety. Well, for me, the resistance is even more deeply ingrained, since neither my grandparents, nor their grandparents — nor, I suspect, even their grandparents — were the types to make a big deal of anyone’s cultus.

The greater part of the Catholic side of my family came originally from Ireland, specifically, Cork and Waterford, by the Irish Sea. Their name is Foley, which derives from the Gaelic Ó Foghladha, or “the plunderers.” These details matter, because the Foleys have always seemed, like the people who plundered that region into beggary during the Dark Ages, related to the inventors of the Volvo. Solid, practical people, all of them — wrung dry of any primitive Celtic genius. In the Old Country, they did not fight Black and Tans; here, they did not fight blacks. They declined to join the Whyos, Westies, Molly Maguires, the Pogues or even the fire department. Their religion was of a similarly bland and respectable sort. Though they sent their children to parochial schools, and managed to produce a nun in every generation, they’d no sooner have begged help from a dead Portuguese friar than danced the limbo at a confirmation party.

I won’t say I traced the entire etiology of my revulsion as I sat there, imagining myself writing with my eyeballs pressed against my computer screen. However, I did feel very strongly that praying to St. Anthony would lead me down a dark and treacherous path. I remembered St. Anthony’s famous prayer:

“Dear St. Anthony,
Please come around.
Something’s been lost
That can’t be found.

I also recalled that Liberace, upon recovering unexpectedly from a serious illness, cried, “It’s a miracle! Praise St. Anthony!” That settled it: St. Anthony, namesake of the Alamo, was the saint of last resort for imbeciles.

Having a good argument with yourself tends to enliven dull, fruitless tasks, and serves as a cushion against anxiety. Snuffling across my carpet for the second time, I began remembering the advice I received from my friend, Pina, when I wanted to leave the foreclosure department for a better job. Pina’s full name is Giuseppina. She belongs to a more southerly and expansive tribe than the Foleys. A true daughter of her people, she regards squid ink on the teeth as the very height of fashion, and observes some strange superstition involving white flowers. When I decided I could take no more foreclosing, she practically ordered me to pray a certain prayer every day for a solid month, and direct it toward her patron, St. Joseph. The prayer ended with this saccharine formula:

“A blessed life, St. Joseph, may we lead,
By your kind patronage from danger freed.”

But I was desperate. After Pina assured me I’d be hitting up St. Joseph the Worker (as opposed to St. Joseph the Realtor, who must have been taking an awful beating), I started reciting the ridiculous thing. Seventeen days later, I landed a job as a mortgage fraud investigator, at a slight pay increase.

Just then my fingers grasped something. It was the skeletal remains of a pair of shades I’d bought back in the salad days. They were real Dolce & Gabbanas. I’d destroyed them by sitting on them, but could never bear to throw out the frames. Unsure how to enshrine them, I’d left them to sit in the farthest corner of my room, between my bed, the bookshelf and the wall.

Call it a Proustian moment. I remembered prosperity and nice accessories, an uncomplicated life of consumption. Then I remembered St. Joseph. Thinking again on my contacts, not wanting them to remain in situ as relics of an age, I recited:

“Dear St. Anthony,
I beg by the Rood:
Help find my contacts,
Or, baby, I’m screwed.”

It wasn’t quite so easy as that. (Is anything ever?) I did have to start from the point nearest where my head had rested, and search the carpet one quadrant by another. Still, after five minutes, there they were — no more than a foot away from the corner of Lopate, and only three inches apart. Oh, and get this – later that afternoon, I found the spares. Somehow they’d fallen into the far corner of my bathroom cabinet. I’m guessing the act of hauling out the bottle of Clorox knocked them out, too. From no contact lenses to four means improvement by a factor of infinity.

Now, what all this says about the veneration of saints or Italian folk wisdom or the spiritual crimes of the lace-curtain Irish, or even good bedtime habits, I have no idea. I have decided, though, that if I ever have a kid, I’m going to name it Tony, or Toni, depending. My cover story will be that I’m honoring Tony Blair. Since he’s practically patron saint of conflicted converts, it won’t be a total lie.

“Sorry, Guys, Still Catholic”
Adventures in Acedia
Monday Mourning Coming Down
Valentine’s Day: For Some, 50 Shades of Blue
  • Bonnie

    It is uncanny, and I myself am hesitent to ‘use” St. Anthony for fear of falling into superstition, but he has always been effective.Max, wear glasses at home. It is healthier for your eyes. Vanity of vanities!!!! (Now, why can’t I find spellcheck).

  • Melody

    Yay, St. Anthony comes through again! Our whole family is so absent-minded; we just keep him on retainer. We have so many St. Anthony stories it isn’t even funny. Like the time my brother lost his wallet, and Grandma prayed to St. Anthony to help him find it, and his friend Tony found it and brought it to him. When our younger son was born, we were so sure he was going to be a girl we didn’t have a boy’s name picked out. So we didn’t have to go very far down the alphabet to pick “Anthony” as a good name choice. When we moved to a town with three Catholic parishes it was easy to pick St. Anthony of Padua as our church home.
    Glad you found your contacts! My husband has a similar vision correction to yours; I have been involved in similar down-on-the-floor searches for those small plastic circles.

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  • Martha

    Oh, Max. If you’re making a habit of falling asleep with your contacts in, it’s not just St. Anthony you need; try St. Lucy, patron saint of the eyes (and if she was good enough to be Dante’s patron, she’s good enough for you).

    Maybe the American Foleys got a cut above buttermilk so they didn’t invoke St. Anthony, but our family practically made a messenger boy of the poor man (we were always losing things, and always invoking St. Anthony).

    Don’t forget – make a donation to the poor box, or at least light a candle in thanksgiving!

  • Dante Nuovo

    Amen. I experienced a St. Anthony event way back in college days. Being 100% Italian and from a family where the Messenger of St. Anthony was a staple (no not the American one from the Midwest, this Messenger came straight from Padova and was in Italian) I turned to him when I lost my glasses in the snowball fight out in the woods surrounding the campus. That night it snowed like crazy. Went back to the scene of the fight (BTW our side won) and lo and behold…I saw something reflecting the sunlight and drawing my attention, There were my glasses all neatly folded and laying lenses-up as if placed on a night stand. AND not a speck of snow on them AND trie tracks to the left and right of them. I have taught all 7 of my kids devotion to this awesome saint and YES there IS a Tony in our family. :)

  • Bridget N

    I don’t know what I would do without St. Anthony! My memory has turned to crap, especially now that I’m a sleep deprived mom to the most ridiculously cute baby, but I digress. There have been MANY times when the lost has been found only by the grace of God and His helper St. Anthony. The most memorable times both happened at the beach. Two different times during two different visits, my husband’s prescription sunglasses were knocked off by biggish waves. Both times after practically screaming the St. Anthony prayer, the glasses came back up to the surface of the water, and my husband was able to quickly grab them before they disappeared forever. I mean, seriously? If he can find prescription sunglasses in an ocean, he can do anything!

    As for your contacts….UGH. Boy, you have got to start cleaning those suckers. if you lose a finger in a freak typing accident, so be it. You’ve got nine more, but you only have two eyes!! Take better care of them! And honestly, glasses have come a long way since you were a kiddo. I have craptastically bad, bad eyesight – near sighted, far sighted, astigmatism, bifocals at age 37. But my glasses….well, my glasses rock and make me look even more awesome than usual. Progressive lenses take care of that silly line usually caused by bifocals, and some sort of microthin technology takes care of the thickness that would otherwise be present due to the extreme prescription. If I can rock the look, so can you. Plus, when you wear glasses, you don’t have to stick your finger in your sleep deprived eyes every morning. So there.

  • Cherie

    I love St. Anthony. I think he should be the patron of nurses and mothers becasue he is always picking up the crap left behind by others. Most great saints are saving souls from the depths of hell, or curing cancer or other horrible illness but St Anthony lowers himself to find our lost contacts and daily planners. He deals with the mundane and less than glamorous needs of people and I love him for that.

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  • jkm

    We were not lace-curtain Irish (which my mother defined as “people who have fruit in the house when nobody’s sick”), nor were we particularly ethnic, other than my brief forced entry into competitive Irish dancing, from which I emerged with lifelong Michael Flatley PTSD triggered by PBS pledge weeks. But we would not have survived without St. Anthony. No cute rhymes, just prayers, and promises of reward. (My ex, who was German, said that you had to pay him in wine; I lost things so often I am into him for the whole Napa Valley.) In freshman Spanish I learned you can also invoke St. Rita, that patroness of abused housewives and the feminine counterpart of St. Jude in the impossibility business (for which your contact lenses, as well as your typos, qualify) to find things. The rhyme there is Santa Rita, Rita / Lo que se da, no se quita! (Roughly, St. Rita, Rita, what you have given, don’t lose!) Apparently St. Rita is some sort of heavenly Indian giver who takes back things you don’t demonstrate sufficient gratitude for.

  • diane

    St Anthony rocks, and he has come through for me many times, but right now my go-to saint is St Monica, Patroness of Helicopter Moms. Older son leaves for college in a month. Let the maternal panic — and Novenas — begin.

  • Leslie Eastman

    St. Anthony of Padua is my personal favorite saint, and that prayer for St. Anthony’s intersession if the first Catholic prayer I said. I recently got a little, wood statue of St. Anthony — I am so absent minded, I needed to make him comfortable at my home. :)

  • Cynthia Peirce Barney

    Great post… I’ve had similar experiences and you’ve brought back those funny memories.. protein deposits stink, but there are some home-made concoctions that get rid of them… Gotta love St. Anthony!

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  • Marie

    A friend of my mother’s lost her engagement ring in the waves (Jones Beach – BTW I love all your NY references – the beach, Five Towns! Balm to my exiled soul) She prayed to St Anthony – one month later, back at JB, she stood in the surf – and a wave brought her ring back.

    Our version: we use “Tony” (Tony, Tony – look around – something’s lost and must be found!)

  • Metaphysical Catholic

    Hi, Max, I just found your blog. I’m a converted Protestant, so imagine how new the whole praying to Saints thing was for me. But Max, we’re just talking about our friends, really. It’s what we know to be true: people who have passed before us are alive and well on the the other side of the veil and they are our actual – literal – help.

    The DRE at my Parish once said, “The Communion of Saints is mentorship.” Maybe you could read up on a few Saints and find one who you resonate with (Saint Mary Magdalene is a particular fave of mine, along with Saint Faustina and Blessed John Paul II) and just start chatting them up. They’re just real folks, Max, just like us only they have access to special help.

    So, thank Saint Anthony for helping you, say a Rosary for someone poor and blind with no medical care at all, and start making friends with some of t your Friends. I promise, it’s not superstition, it’s just extended family.

  • Metaphysical Catholic


    I didn’t find a “contact” link, so I’m putting this here just FYI – I don’t want you to think I am using your blog to promote myself, so feel free to remove. I wrote it for you and it quotes this piece extensively. Looking forward to more of your writing.

  • Faith Flaherty

    I use to have a laminated holy card of St. Anthony. It had his picture holding the Infant on one side and the prayer on the other side.
    ….but I lost it…

  • Faith Flaherty

    I use to have a laminated holy card of St. Anthony. It had his picture holding the Infant on one side and the prayer on the other side.
    ….but I lost it…

  • Vpokorny

    This headline caught my eye because I’ve been there too! Only my hard contact lenses were absent-mindedly rinsed out of their case seconds after I put them there, and showed up the next morning after a panicked search, only after invoking St. Anthony, one inside the other, on the floor beneath the sink I had been using in a college dormitory bathroom! Since then I have gotten married on his feast day, moved to San Antonio, and joined St. Anthony de Padua parish.