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  • Writer's pictureSara Hurand

Contact Lessons

My Grandma GG turned 97 last week. We sat together with the quiet pause in these challenging times and she reminded me that it is important “to see things for what they are and not what you want them to be”. Yes, Geeg, that seems right, but not easy. How do I do that? See things for what they are?

My vision used to be fine, better than fine. Several years ago I was told I would strain less if I wore glasses for close up work, so I tried and found they did indeed increase focus. Bonus. Since my October 6 not-so magical mystery tour began, my eyesight has gotten noticeably worse. Yes, let's start here with vision not war. I’ll make the font bigger for comfort because I need it these days. Here. HereHere. Yes. Much better.

Here I am, a reflection in Jonah's eye, age alllllmmmmosstttt 49 and my EYES can’t read menus at restaurants anymore. Not just menus with little writing but ALL menus, big font, little font, all font. This is a BIG problem from teeny writing. There are even bigger problems right now but this post is about the middle, really, so let's stick with vision even if it looks bad. There is more to see.

On and off, on and off, I use glasses now to read menus. The other day I happened into an eyeglass store to look into contact lenses. I wish I could tell you where I was, but I’m neither here nor there, nor anywhere. The discovery at midlife that it doesn't matter much where is striking. This refocuses the experiences and choices in front of me rather than the context. Safe and home are ideas, not givens. Ideas, not realities. Maybe contact lenses will help me see things better. 

The eye doctor fitted and pushed soft contacts on my eyeballs. He struggled and struggled and yanked my eyelids in all directions to get them in. The contacts felt weird and my eyelids sore. I didn’t see well, but he assured me it takes time to adjust. Boy does it ever. After the doctor removed the test contacts, I practiced with a technician to learn how to put them in and out myself. “Eye” was unsuccessful, but nevermind, made an appointment to try again another day.

The idea of touching my eyeballs grosses me out. Ew. It hurts and it’s unpleasant. The eyes have one of our most beautiful autonomic reflexes, blinking, for self-protection. We don’t have to think about it, our eyes just do it. Learning to stick foreign substances onto sensitive eyeballs requires going against our natural reflex and overcoming physical discomfort. On my next attempt I pushed the lenses on my eyeballs but couldn’t get them out. The technician rescued them, and me. Nevermind, committed to seeing this through, I made an appointment to try again another day. Learning to wear contacts gives me something of a mission, and the microdose of self harm is strangely comforting.

The eyes are a meeting point between inside emotions and the external world around. I kind of want to poke poke poke, tear, and smear so I can’t see what's in front of me as clearly. The scary stuff really looks scary! Not seeing clearly makes the outside world match my insides more closely. Blurry and a bit confused. Blink blink. 

The title of this post is The Flickering Middle. I've been writing and living it for over 200 days since the war began on October 7, 2023. There are still hostages being held, alive or dead, still devastation, still individuals, humans from all backgrounds, families, communities operating in a state of suspended I’m not sure what but something looking like a really bad crisis that the whole world is eyeing with stunned, hurt, and angry glares. There is movement, confusion, cumulation, calculation, destruction, survival, and now raging protests at the edges. I can only hope the conflict is moving towards stability, but I can’t make out its shape or form. There is no clear destination in sight.

The Flickering Middle is hard to see, while the edges, defined in simple high contrast black and white, are more clear. I’m thinking of polarization here, a nice eyeglass metaphor for the opposite sides that appear to strongly shape our understanding of everything from politics to culture wars, physical wars, and even ideologies, those sneaky certitudes trying hard to pass as self-evident truths. These are the polarized edges that rage with clarity.

Polarization in sunglasses reduces glare by blocking out horizontal light rays, which is a very cool invention. By blocking out uncomfortable glare, polarized lenses increase contrast in light and shadow, richness of color, and overall clarity of the environment, so you see better. I read that on a sunglass website. In stark contrast however, polarization in discourse and our way of being in the world blocks out the richness of color, the sensitive shades of light and shadow that connect all things, and overall clarity of the environment or situation.

It’s hard to see what is in between the polarized extremes, but there is something special and not to be overlooked about the middle. The Flickering Middle is bigger than the edges, shaped from nuance and blur, not afraid to see things in different ways. Maybe our natural reflexes pull us to grasp at the edges rather than hang loosely with unknowns, openness, and contradictions in the middle. But still, the Flickering Middle is where most of us find ourselves, with a stomach for complexity that holds us back from the edges. The middle entertains curiosity and perhaps some detachment, which might perturb the extremist. I know I'm looking through rose colored glasses here, there are plenty in the middle who just don't care, but still, I've never appreciated the big balancing middle more than right now. Like a fulcrum, they see the extended sides swinging wildly and ground their strength, stability, and truths in the center. 

There are “two sides to every coin”. Even if one feels strongly on an issue, they still gain understanding from a glance at the other side. This is not neutrality, its maturity. Information and understanding, especially in this time of crisis is limited, pushing against the righteous edges of rightness. There is always more that can't be seen. Being wrong is the balancing side of being right, and there are plenty of times when everyone at the table is both right and wrong, which is why it flickers, and its a question of sorting it out. Humbling, yes.

Also empowering, actually, YES, YES, YES!

We have remarkable individual control over the information we put in front of our eyeballs and the sources we digest. We order sound bites and news clips like food from a takeout menu and favor the flavors that suit our tastes. This is information empowerment, but must be handled with care. As GG says, it's important to see things as they are and not as we want them to be. Ordering takeout information only to our taste caters to increased polarization, anger, and judgment and less dinners together. It does highlight, however, individual power, responsibility, and accountability. Not just for what comes in, but also for what come out.

It took 5 visits to the eye doctor and a lot of positive visualization, but I finally mastered putting lenses on my eyeballs. A small accomplishment these days but worth counting. I felt a little salt in the wound when they asked me to read from a menu to test my vision with the new lenses. Oh well. No big win here. I haven't fixed my vision. There is no going back on aging and the changes that have occured in time, but there is coping, maturation, an openness to finding the adjustments that can be made in response to new realities. 

There won't likely be a big win anywhere though many desperately want it so. Society has matured to the age of complexity where we see more than ever that every win has its losses, and every loss has its wins. Suffering is broadcast immediately and we feel it. We are affected by it. We are human! What comes after “eye for an eye?” when we no longer eye the simple win but rather cope, mature, and respond to new realities, not through shouting but through understanding, I don't foresee. Whatever the recipe that makes up the middle, they are balancing love and hate better than the edges in this extraordinary time. I can, however, close my eyes and imagine a distant vision where clarity doesn't come from the bright glare at the edges, but from small glimmers of grace and humility; a warm glow of congruity expanding from the middle. The low light helping us find the way.

To my dear ones here and there, holding daily joy and life along with despair, I love you so much and miss you. Hope to see you soon.

 “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death.” Anne Frank

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love this, love you. thank you for sharing your special and unique powers.

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