“Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who opens the eyes of the blind.” Morning Blessings, Shacharit
As our congregation recited the prayer this Rosh Hashanah, this line of the traditional morning prayers took on much more meaning. After struggling with extremely poor vision since elementary school, I will no longer have to rely on corrective lenses. As Johnny Nash sang, “I can see clearly now. “
No one was surprised when I needed glasses when I was six years old. Near-sightedness was rampant in my family, and my parents and two older siblings were already wearing glasses. My vision, however, was complicated by amblyopia, a condition when the vision in one of the eyes is reduced because the eye and the brain are not working together properly. In my case, the right eye wandered towards the extreme right. In 1956, surgery was not an option. Instead, I was given a black patch to wear on my left eye to force the “lazy eye” to get stronger.
I wish my parents had been more persistent, but I was embarrassed and defiant and refused to wear the patch. The vision in my right eye continued to deteriorate, and my left eye also was very near-sighted. By the time I was in junior high school, my glasses were noticeably thick, only adding to the self-consciousness of teenager who also suffered from acne and what I perceived as a Jewish nose. When I was sixteen, I was fitted for a pair of glasses by an ophthalmologist who told me my vision was too bad for contact lens and predicted I would be blind by my twenties. When I brought the glasses home, they were so thick they looked like coke-bottles. I threw them across the room and cried myself to sleep.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I was able to get another pair of glasses with lighter material that were not as ugly. But in my yearbook picture, the thickness of the lenses were the dominant feature.
When I arrived at University at Albany, I was very self-conscious of my glasses, and they proved to be a source of embarrassment. One time, my roommates thought it would be funny to hide my glasses when I was in the shower. I burst into tears and begged them to help me find them, as I didn’t have the sight to search for them. I hit my lowest moment was when my girlfriend’s cute but clueless boyfriend didn’t respond to me when I was talking to him. “Gene,” Linda said, “ Marilyn asked you a question.” “How was I supposed to know?” he answered. “Her glasses are so thick you can’t see her eyes.”
At the end of my freshman year, I was experiencing very bad headaches. Doctors at the University at Albany health center referred me to a local ophthalmologist. “You are extremely near-sighted,” the wonderful doctor stated. “Have you ever considered contact lenses?” I wasn’t going blind. I was a candidate for contacts! I was measured, fitted, and scheduled to pick them up the first week of summer break.
I will never forget the day I first put those tiny hard lenses in my eyes. I walked outside and saw the leaves on the trees in all their beauty. For the first time in my life, my eyes were causing tears of joy.
The lenses not only improved my vision but also my self-confidence. Behind those coke bottles were my family’s “Pearlman-blue” eyes, eyes the deepest color blue. Helped a little by the blue tint on my lenses, my eyes became my best feature. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most beautiful blue eyes?” strangers would tell me. “Yes, they have!” I would reply,””but you can tell me again.”
For the next fifty years, contact lens were an integral part of my life. I popped them in the minute I woke up in the morning, and I popped them out just before I went to sleep. I was literally blind without them, but the world was a bright, sharp 20/20 with them. I used eye glasses only when absolutely necessary. Regular eye appointments kept me on track. “Lasik” surgery was not an option for many years because of the severity of my myopia. When the surgery was perfected, my doctor suggested I wait. My family history, which had predicted corrective lenses, also predicted a high chance of the development of cataracts, a common eye problem seen in over fifty percent of the population by the age of eighty.
When I moved to Florida, I immediately established myself with a local eye doctor. Last fall, he told me that I had the beginning of cataracts. By this spring, the one in my right eye, which had been deemed as “insignificant” only months before, was growing fast and significantly impacting my vision. As soon as my husband Larry and I returned from our summer travels, I scheduled the surgery for the last week of September.
By Rosh Hashanah services less than a week later, I was able to greet fellow congregants, see the rabbi on the bima, and follow the entire service in our prayerbooks with no corrective lens in my right eye and my faithful contact lens in my left. The follow-up appointment has confirmed that my right eye is a nearly-perfect 20/25. After surgery for the cataract in my left eye is completed, I will be free of corrective lenses for the first time in sixty years.
Because of my poor vision, I have never felt confident climbing up the steps to the huge slides at water parks As soon as I have medical clearance, however, a friend and I are heading to Wet ’n Wild in Orlando. Who knows what’s next? Sky diving? Why not? I can see clearly now. Wheeeee!