I had cataract surgery on my right eye last week; the left one was done in 2015. For the first time ever, I can drive without glasses. My new, improved eyesight caused me to reflect on my aptitude for other types of sight – insight and hindsight.
I clearly (pun intended) remember the day in seventh grade when I admitted I needed glasses. We were seated alphabetically in math class, so despite being one of the shortest kids in the school, I was in the last row, next to a boy named Michael.
The day before, we had taken a test on positive and negative numbers. Since the test was mimeographed, and we each had our own copy on our desks, I had no trouble with it. But the teacher had written the extra credit questions on the blackboard. I couldn’t distinguish the plus signs from the minuses, and I got all the extra credit examples wrong. So did Michael.
The teacher asked to speak to us privately, and Michael admitted he had copied from my paper. I told my parents, and they took me for an eye exam. Michael got a zero; I got glasses. It’s a lesson I used when I taught my grandkids the middah (soul trait) of honesty.
By seeking insight into the glasses story, I found a more deeply embedded example of honesty – with myself and others.
I wonder why I waited until that embarrassing incident to tell my parents and my teacher I was having trouble seeing? Possibly I was too shy to admit my problem and ask the teacher for a closer seat. Or maybe I was afraid that I would upset my father, who was ashamed that his vision was so bad that he wasn’t able to serve in WWII. Or perhaps I didn’t want to risk being called “four eyes.”
Whatever the reason for my hesitation, looking back 60 years later gives me insight into who I was then, how I have grown (and am able to admit deficiencies) and where I have not (not always able to ask for help). As author and spiritual teacher Gary Zukav says, “What is behind your eyes holds more power than what is in front of them.”
In the matter of hindsight, I am a master, especially when it involves perseverating about “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.” A perfect example happened last week when I left my raincoat in the car as I met my carpool to attend an evening Tisha B’Av service on Mt. Falcon. Tisha B’Av is the saddest day of the Jewish year, when we mourn the temples destroyed in Jerusalem, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans.
Soon after we reached the mountaintop, a torrential downpour left me soaked to the skin. I was cold and miserable. “The dark clouds had me blind.” I could hardly focus on the prayers or appreciate the double rainbow with the thick veil of water dripping down my face.
I have lived in Colorado for over 50 years, I thought. I know that sudden rain showers are not uncommon on summer evenings. I peered through dripping hair at the group, and it appeared that everyone else had been smart enough to bring some sort of rain protection or had borrowed something. I hypothesized that they were looking at me and thinking how stupid I was for being unprepared. Not only was I cold and drenched, but I was also feeling like a fool.
I had constructed quite a low self-esteem story, reminding me of the Stephen Covey quotation, “Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it.**
I got home, peeled off my wet clothes as quickly as I could and jumped into the shower. As the hot water warmed my rain-soaked skin, I thought about using insight to find the life lessons in this unpleasant incident rather than using hindsight to reprimand myself.
What if, rather than obsessing about the mistake of the left-behind jacket, I could reframe it as a metaphor: In ancient times, the Jews, as I was that evening, had been unaware and unprepared for what was coming. And my suffering in the rain was nothing compared to what my ancestors endured! So maybe the ill-fated outing was an opportunity not only for learning, but also to feel grateful for the survival of our tribe despite centuries of travails. And more mundanely, I experienced gratitude for the availability of a hot shower and a dry towel. That said, as soon as I dressed in warm pajamas, I put a foldable rain poncho in my fanny pack. Next year I will be prepared!
Since my cataract surgery, the fir trees look greener, my petunias are a more vivid pink, and the blue of Evergreen Lake is more vibrant. This gift can be a reminder to use not only my improved eyesight to see better, but also to engage insight and hindsight. That means seeing clearly not only what is in front of my eyes, but also what is behind them. It entails using hindsight to learn rather than to beat myself up. It requires taking the time to be mindful – questioning my perceptions and the stories I create. Then I can joyfully appreciate seeing clearly and fully experience a “bright, bright sun shiny day.”
*I Can See Clearly Now, Johnny Nash, 1972
I can see clearly now; the rain is gone I can see all obstacles in my way Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind It's gonna be a bright, bright sun shiny day It's gonna be a bright, bright sun shiny day.
** We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are,” is originally credited to Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani as quoted in the Talmud. Adaptations of the quotation have been used by writers throughout the centuries, including Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.