Today I saw pigeons in flight for the very first time.
Well, not exactly, but this is the first time I’ve really been able to see pigeons in flight.
Let me start at the beginning. I am terribly nearsighted, but for the longest time I didn’t wear glasses at all. My family was not kind about my appearance. I had a brother I love dearly who used to call me a “fat, clumsy oaf” on a daily basis and a sister who proclaimed she was going on a diet so she wouldn’t end up looking like me. They always talked like that. When I came home with a prescription for nearsightedness when I was a teenager, this was another deformity for them to mock. These were just ordinary rimless oval glasses, but from the way my siblings reacted you’d have thought I was wearing a pair of binoculars duct taped to my eyes. My brother used to borrow my glasses and put them on so he could do a mocking squeaky-voiced imitation of my nerdiness.
I did not wear glasses on my face anymore than I absolutely had to, because of that. I wore them propped on my head, so I could pull them down if I had to look at something far away. I only wore them on my face if I was at the movies or riding in the car where I could get carsick. But I still got mocked. Eventually, after I moved away from home and cut ties with my family, my glasses broke, and I told myself I didn’t need them anyway. I didn’t drive. I didn’t have time to go to the movies. I was a graduate student, so all my work was on the computer screen or books which I could see just fine, and I sat at the front of the classroom so I could still see the board if I squinted. I just couldn’t see at a distance, that was all.
After I started having flares of nerve pain and fatigue that were eventually diagnosed as fibromyalgia, I found that my vision got more and more blurry. Michael would ask why I didn’t notice things and I’d confess I couldn’t see them. I decided to go to the eye doctor for the first time in more than six years, expecting that he’d tell me I was going blind. But all he found was very bad nearsightedness. He seemed shocked I hadn’t been wearing glasses before.
This time, I wore the glasses all the time except when reading. I discovered that I could read street signs, and that there were graves on the grassy hill some distance from my apartment: that was how I discovered the cemetery and started going for walks there, admiring nature. But I also discovered that I saw double when I looked at objects in the distance. I could see the computer and books just fine with my bare eyes, and I could now see the middle distance perfectly. When I looked into the distance I saw objects that were no longer so blurry, but they were double: two red lights, two moons, twice as many graves on the hill. I complained to the Medicaid-eligible doctor about this, but he didn’t test for that kind of vision problem. He just ran the usual five-minute tests for astigmatism and told me my eyes were fine.
I learned to drive by shutting one eye, which is probably why it took so much longer than usual.
Finally, just this year, I went to another ophthalmologist. I explained the problem and how the first doctor had been ignoring it for years, and this doctor did an additional exam. He said he could give me a new pair of glasses with something called a “prism” inside the lens, which would correct the muscle imbalance in my eyes as well as just the blurriness, but that Medicaid wouldn’t pay for new glasses until next year. I paid cash for the cheapest frames in the shop, a reddish purple pair that I hoped didn’t look too horrible. A week later, I put them on.
For a moment, I had vertigo.
The whole world looked as if I was staring at it through the top of a mason jar: curved, round, dipping away from me. I walked up and down the aisles of the Wal Mart where the vision center was until I got used to this, and found that I could see things at a far distance without any trouble. The last of the blur was gone. The double vision was gone. I could read every grocery label on the shelf and I didn’t have to shut one eye.
I took the driving test again, and this time I got my license.
Which brings me to today, when I was outside helping Rosie build a snowman. It was another beautiful snowy day in LaBelle, white in the sky and white on the ground, flakes of white muffling the noise. Rosie made a big bright smile on her snowman’s face with chocolate chips from the kitchen, and we ate the extras. Then we went to the backyard so she could ride her sled down the slight incline by the alley while I watched to make sure no cars were coming. And that was when I saw the pigeons.
I like pigeons. I like how awkward they are when they bobble across the sidewalk. I like how their voices sound like people murmuring at a distance. I like the iridescent blue and green you can see in your feathers if you look close enough. But I’d never really been able to properly view pigeons, or any other bird, in flight. I love birds, but they just looked like black letter v’s against a blue or gray sky to me when they flew. This was the first time in my thirty-six years that I had really been able to look up and watch a flock of birds in flight.
I saw the dark ellipses of their bodies, and the dark curves of their heads. I saw wings in detail, each tipped with flashes of white.
The birds soared across the alley, nearly lighting on the snow-covered roofs across the street. Then they pulled up and glided above the four-way stop the next street over. Then they moved back up to this block, darting back and forth between my house and the menacing neighbor, as if they wanted to land on the roof but didn’t dare. They flew back to the crossroad where a truck braking noisily must’ve scared them, because when I heard that sound, I saw them flutter their wings in a panic, not moving in unison anymore. But then they found their stride and flew away to the other side of LaBelle.
I didn’t know birds looked like that.
Is this why they call Christ the Divine Physician?
I’ve always pictured this title as being something a little nastier than an eye doctor– as if your sins were oozing sores and Jesus cleaned and bandaged them for you. And I’m not saying that’s not what He does, sometimes. But just now it looks this way: There was a time when I realized I couldn’t see. And I went to a doctor to get that fixed, but I was so mocked and reviled and tormented for wanting to see and for how wanting to see made me look, that I eventually stopped bothering to see. I started to forget that I couldn’t see. I thought the blur was normal. But then, one day, I tried to see again. This only led to more realization of how bad my eyes were, and when I went for help for the longest time I only got people telling me there was nothing wrong. Eventually, though, Somebody listened, and they fixed it. And now I see.
I can see pigeons flying in a flock over LaBelle.
I hope it never becomes perfectly ordinary. I want to be struck every now and then, for the rest of my life, with how beautiful it is to see.
Perhaps that’s a metaphor for the spiritual life as well.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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