Thursday, January 3, 2013

Seeing in the Dark

"It took me a long time to learn, but I knew now that the more I could let go of the adversarial reflex, the more energy I'd have for running. Conflict poisons the spirit, and probably the blood. Companionship strengthens the spirit."
-Ed Ayres from The Longest Race

I have had a struggle with vision since age 19. First, I had severe glaucoma that seemed to come out of nowhere with pressures high enough to explode my eyeballs. That got better, but then my corneas became something akin to the surface of the moon. And glasses help but not enough really. And contacts are no longer an option. I am 29 (or so) years old now, and already spend my days asquint. It is life changing: I cannot quite see when I am reading a complicated piece of music. And I absolutely cannot safely run in the woods by headlamp at night.

Granted, I still see. I can work and gaze upon my children and compared to true blindness, I have nothing much to complain about. But I do like reading complicated music and running in the dark.

I am reading this book right now about ultrarunning and how it relates to life. Many would say it relates to life in terms of a subpopulation of insanity, but this book argues that it is a metaphor for our very survival, not unlike the tortoise and the hare, which is not so much about that particular race between bunny and turtle, but rather about how you have to pace yourself in this here life.

I can see, but not as well as God and biology intended. And it has slowed me down. At work, I have to nose in to the computer and concentrate on the labs and Xrays just a bit more than I used to. At the piano bench, I can't glance and play an unfamiliar piece quite so offhandedly. Now I lean in and my brain asks itself about the structure and music theory behind my visual interpretation. I often see it one step off but my brain corrects so it makes sense in the music. My piano prof from music school would applaud this, because mindless tricks do not a solid performance make. Still, I miss the quick glance reading I could once do, when my eyes were not moon balls.

I rang in the New Year with a run in the dark, along with friends. At one point, I found myself separated from the group and alone in the woods, literally unsure of where to go because even with my head lamp, I could not see. One side was a drop off. Another offered 3 paths and I did not know which was right as they all looked blurry and, well, dark. There were roots and rocks at my feet and when I tried to run I was significantly at risk for a face plant. I stood there for awhile, gazing up at the stars and watching my breath fill the chilly air. I could hear fireworks in the distance. I was hoping they were warding off the lions and bears. Then I reached for my cell phone and called for help. Humbling to be led by the elbow out of the woods by a 15 year old girl.

Moving fast without concern is a joy. But it occurs to me that it is also the thing that makes us all so harried and prone to unkindness. I just read a thread on line about anger at doctors for making their patients wait. One could write a 23 volume tome on this very subject, but I can boil it down to this: when things matter, we all need to slow down and pay attention to each other. Anger is poison. Rushing often leads to mistakes, burnout and depletion. Doctors are not plumbers, technicians, retail clerks, concierges or Gods. They are just people trained to diagnose disease and attempt to offer healing. Rushing through that process is a recipe for disaster, and is driven mainly by our odd societal idea that medicine is a for profit sport.

I haven't decided about any New Year's resolutions. But I am considering accepting a slower approach to the moments of my days. Sometimes you just have to stop and gaze upward and breathe. And accept the kind arm offered to you.

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