I remember my father telling me, "The eyes of God are on us always." The eyes of God. What a phrase to a young boy. What were God's eyes like? Unimaginably penetrating, intense eyes, I assumed. And I wonder if it was just a coincidence I made my specialty ophthalmology.
As a kid, I had a habit of staring at the sun, usually while sitting in the silver-bodied, maroon-upholstered backseat of my parents' Pontiac Grand Prix. I'd look out the back window at the sun, and if I stared long enough I'd see the image of the Virgin Mary. The image was never clear, but the center of the sun would lose its fiery orange color, become a soft blue, become the silhouette of a feminine figure dressed in a soft, flowing veil and undulating robes.
And I'd shut my eyes. The sunlight through my eyelids was yellow and red. Years later, when I saw Andres Serrano's Piss Christ for the first time, I'd recognize the hue. It was the hue one sees while looking at the sun with eyes closed.
For good measure, I also stared at total solar eclipse once, even though I'd been informed of the possible retinal nightmare resulting from naked eye observation.
The most terrifying thing you can tell a child is that God watches over us. And not only God, but deceased aunts and uncles and great-grandparents watch as well. The afterlife is one big peep-show.
My family told me how many unseen eyes were watching over me, so I stared back. Sitting in the backseat of my parents' car. Staring down the Virgin Mary buried in the center of the sun. Then searching for her in an eclipse, relieved the moon concealed her from me--and me from her. "Aha," I thought as I glared up at the corona of the sun, a giant circle of nothingness where the Virgin Mary usually appeared, "the way to avoid constant intrusion is to look for ways to conceal and be concealed."
I was like a baby playing peek-a-boo. If I couldn't see, I couldn't be seen.
This would come in handy when I hit puberty.
One consequence of this incessant sun-gazing was that I nearly went blind. Took some time for me to notice, and even longer for others to notice.
I developed an awkward relationship with earthbound inanimate objects. Desks appeared out of nowhere. Walls rose up to smack me in the face. Bike-riding went from an intuitive flow of streets and sidewalks to a unexpected obstacle course, where cars both parked and in motion sprang out at me with little warning.
One day, riding my bike, I managed to hit the stationary landbarge of an elderly neighbor, a giant old Buick which hadn't moved from its spot on the street in years. I slammed into the back bumper. My bike went one way, I went another, and as hands picked me up I heard the word "glasses" mentioned.
So I got glasses. Heavy, thick, world-clarifying glasses.
Hamlet (I'd read years later) tells a long-time friend, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Or something along those lines--I could google the exact quote, but as a semi-blind person I'm satisfied with the approximation rather than the exact.
It's tiring to be exact when you spend most of your day second-guessing your own eyesight. When I got glasses, I realized the world around me was much more terrifying than dead relatives and Virginal sun-centric images.
Nuclear war, for one. Terrifying.
Sometimes, while watching the nightly news, I'd take off my recently-acquired glasses. Peek-a-boo(m!).
And sometimes, I still glance up at the sun. I'll take my glasses off, and stretch out on the grass. Read. Try to get a tan through the chemicals of sunscreen slathered all over me, as if those chemicals aren't worse than the actual naked sunlight. Tire of the book, shut my eyes and see the colors of Piss Christ thru my eyelids.
Tire of that, too.
I'll open my eyes, stare into the sun, and see nothing at all. Just a flaming ball of physics and atmosphere, and the burning of my retinas distorting the center of the sun into a mirage of whatever shape I want to see. When I was a kid, it was the Virgin Mary. Now, all I see is a bruise where the center of the sun used to be.
My ophthalmologist has become my new pastor. He can't prevent me from harming myself, but he certainly makes me feel guilty enough to keep me in line--I don't stare at the sun nearly as often as I want to.
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