Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say
Tomorrow do thy worst,
for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.
~ John Dryden ~
What’s done is done. The logic is irrefutable; efforts spent trying to change the past are wasted. Emotions tend to sidestep logic, though, as if desire or regret might have magical powers to transform the historically good, bad, or benign into something else. In spite of the reality that history is immutable, emotions struggle mightily to revise the past. Often, those efforts rely on arguments suggesting history is a product of perspective. The harshness of past actions that had negative consequences—judged at the time to have been cruel—cannot be transformed into compassionate simply because they might have been motivated by love or concern. That perspective cannot alter the reality of history. The same is true of past good deeds. They cannot be modified into something evil or cruel simply by changing one’s perspectives of history.
My limited research into the history of corrective lenses suggests that their first recorded use was by the emperor Nero, who was said to have viewed gladiatorial games using an emerald. The first corrective lenses supposedly were invented by Abbas Ibn Firnas, who lived between 809 and 887 A.D. I suspect the availability of corrective lenses was quite limited until considerably later. Before they were widely available, most people who suffered from poor eyesight must have had to simply put up with it. Before I had cataract surgery, my distance vision without glasses was abysmal. Though I did not attempt to go without glasses for days at a time, I imagine day-by-day life would have been extremely challenging. But I have always had options. People who lived before eyeglasses had been invented did not have those options. Even today, I sense that many, many, many people the world over do not have access to eyeglasses. When faced with spending limited resources on food or on improved vision, food certainly must win out. Now, with lens implants in my eyes, my distance vision is vastly improved, but my near-vision without glasses is utterly insufficient to allow me to read. I could afford cataract surgery (I had to pay for it…insurance did not cover it and my surgery took place before I was eligible for Medicare). My gut tells me the vast majority of the world’s population cannot afford that expense, which most of us almost take for granted. We are incredibly fortunate. We should be deeply grateful for our good fortune. And, to the extent we can, we should share it.
I spent an hour and a half with a therapist yesterday. The session was a “getting to know you” introduction. During the conversation, my health was among the subjects we covered. While telling her about challenges to my health over the years, I told her I had “dodged a bullet” several times, beginning with the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease when I was 18, which put me in the hospital a number of times over the years, including once while on a business trip to Toledo, Ohio, where I underwent surgery for a suspected appendicitis (I was 37 years old at the time). It was the Crohn’s. The surgeon removed a very long piece of my small intestines; though I have had a few more flare-ups (including one that began within 12 hours of arriving in Vienna, Austria and put me in the hospital for five days before flying home), it seems I have been mostly in remission ever sense. And I told her about my double-bypass heart surgery when I was fifty years old and about the removal of the lower lobe lobe of my right lung due to lung cancer and about a brief hospitalization for pancreatitis. She learned that my mother and father died when I was in my early thirties and that my oldest sister died almost years ago and that my brother who was closest in age to me died early last year and that my wife of almost 41 years died almost three years ago. The therapist suggested that all of my health issues and the emotional traumas of deaths and illnesses in my family were “bullets.” As I consider my history of major and minor physical and emotional traumas, I marvel that I have made it as far as I have. But that may be a bit overly-dramatic. I can be something of a drama-fiend. The conversation caused me to reflect, though, on the “punches” thrown at me over the years. And I realized my experiences pale in comparison to many, many other people who also have withstood such punches. Most people tend to be resilient, I think. My experiences are far from unique; just part of the process of living and coping with the world around me.
We have not decided what we are going to do over Christmas. We’ve decided not to make any plans until after my appointment with my oncologist late next week, following my CT scan. Just in case. Assuming all is well, we’re considering the possibility of going to Mississippi or to the south Texas coast. Or staying here and having a leg of lamb or prime rib for Christmas dinner. Having those options, and many more, is yet another reason to be grateful for our good fortune. The fact that I can go to the refrigerator to get a low-fat peach yoghurt for breakfast is yet another reason; and it is one for which I will be grateful right now. I am trying to discard the darkness.