Have you ever wondered how your life might have turned out if you had done one thing differently? Of course you have. You’re human after all and we tend to ponder what ifs. My what ifs are rarely huge. Like this morning while driving my daughter to school I couldn’t help but notice the intricate patterns of mesquite tree shadows on the gymnasium walls as I pulled into the school parking lot. What if, I wondered, while turning onto the road and heading back home, what if I had gotten glasses as a kid instead of waiting until my first year in college? What more would I have noticed? What would that have done to shape my view of the world? Then my favorite George Eliot line from Middlemarch came to mind:
“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
As a young adult I spent a lot of time being pissed off at the things I missed during my tween and teen years― regular eye exams, parents in town, dinner. Now I’m not so sure. For instance, what if I had worn glasses and could at twelve see every leaf on every tree with discrete clarity? Even now my stimulus filters are scant, but as a kid they were more inadequate at sifting through sensory inputs. If I had worn glasses all the extra visual data might have made my head explode.
I remember the day I picked up my first pair of glasses, how it felt to ride my bike along the tree-lined streets, every leaf visible, each break in the canopy a sharp shaft of light. It was like I had spent my life reading Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and was now handed Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. The thick clarity of the world around me distracted me so much I could barely keep pedaling. I had to stop many times between the optometrist’s office and my apartment just to study the trees.
So perhaps it was for the best that I lived my entire adolescence in a blur. Those years have so many more squirrel heart beats than any other time in one’s life, the roar might have been my undoing.