Seeing Things

This afternoon’s entertainment consisted of another grueling visit to the retinal specialist, culminating in an injection through the sclera of my left eye into the vitreous humor.

This was the sixth such procedure I have had to endure, and the process has become a sort of routine. It’s still horrible and painful, but I know exactly what to expect, and each time it gets a little easier to deal with. The treatments have been so effective, with significant improvement to be expected in their aftermath, that I almost look forward to each visit.

Almost, but not quite.

On the long drive home I listened to six trio sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, played by the late Marie-Claire Alain on the Curt Schwenkedel organ at the Collégiale de Saint Donat in France. I believe these pieces are better known in arrangements for a Baroque ensemble, but like most of Bach’s great works, they were originally composed for the organ.

While the music played I watched the landscape roll by around me. My left eye burned and stung and my vision on that side was blurry. Although it was a dim late afternoon in November with a high overcast, I had to wear a pair of temporary shades over my dilated pupils. Even so, I was able to enjoy the hues of the late fall foliage and the orange blaze of the sunset that appeared through a gap in the clouds over the Blue Ridge.

The car was filled with music of a transcendent clarity, opening a window into the parlors of heaven. The variegated colors of a cold, fading afternoon surrounded me. Despite all the misery and trauma and suffering, a feeling of calm gratitude settled over me.

This gratitude has become a regular visitor during the eight months since macular degeneration and the terror of possible blindness first came into my life last winter. My visual acuity is now substantially reduced, but I can still experience the richness of texture and the glory of color. And I am grateful for every moment of it.

Life is good.

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Typing out these thoughts brought to mind a poem written by Louis MacNeice in 1939. I’ve posted it here before, but it’s worth revisiting:

The Sunlight on the Garden
By Louis MacNeice

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

20 thoughts on “Seeing Things

  1. But glad to have sat under
    Thunder and rain with you,
    And grateful too
    For sunlight on the garden.

    Indeed, my beloved. And grateful for Bach and the Grateful Dead and the golden hickory in the front yard mottled with sunlight at its top in the late afternoons, and the family of wild turkeys who come to eat there. What do you suppose they find in the grass in Autumn?

    Your sight is not as fine as once it was, but your amazing paintings remain. I think if you’d known the price for their creation you’d still have paid it…as the cartoonist said in that panel that stayed on the fridge for 20 years, “you knew he was an artist when you married him, dear…”

    I miss the smell of turpentine, the paint rags in the mudroom, your ancient easel, a Christmas present when you were 14. Ah, but had your daddy known it would turn you from a secure “career”, what then? Our parents want us to be safe so they can rest easy.

    But since I believe in an afterlife I can’t give words to (even though Thesaurus is my father), methinks your daddy’s spirit does indeed rest easy. He loves you still, even closer than you can know.

    I am so so so glad you didn’t go blind.

  2. Looks like the trials have opened up your literary talent too. Indeed it’s a one way ride for all of us, and there is no escaping the law of enthropy either. Here is a nice evocation of the by-then totally deaf Beethoven experiencing the first public performance of the 9th Symphony:

  3. A wonderful reply to your long time partner in life. I hope he enjoys your words of warmth, comfort and companionship. I know I did!

    • Ah Nemesis, I know we are safe with one another and that knowledge is bone deep; it is a comfort akin to what one feels on sinking into a feather bed in February.

      Besides, there is my cooking & his love of eating, and our mutual love of poetry and his willingness to put up with Ms. Lucy. “Snippy” as one former commenter flung at me, even as he mistook me for a man in his fury (a backhanded compliment, but hey…

      I, otoh, am willing to argue…ummm, “discussions” is what we call them even as others flee the scene…

      Sometimes – when we remember – we will attempt to calm each other down. I swan: there is nothing like marriage for bringing out the fine print on one’s soul.

      • Ah yes, the hot words between couples! There are many facets to a relationship. Wouldn’t it be rather dull for two people not to have differences occasionally. But any relationship is only as good as the words that are chosen to be spoken to each other after the disagreement has subsided which will allow the more softer sides of each partner come to the fore.

        It’s great to be in love and to be loved in return. Where would we all be without love?

        • Indeed. As flawed as it is, love is the best thing we have. One of my favorite philosophers, Gabriel Marcel, said that love means “for me you will never die”…

          …he’s the same one who said (and which many idealistic young people once hung on their walls), “Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived”. I have that one tattooed on the inside of my eyelids, as a reminder.

  4. I will be going for my fourth shot shortly and I have noticed my fellow patients in the office waiting room have always had this problem with the left eye.

  5. I have cataracts, and my vision is slowly deteriorating, but I know that there will come a time when it can be treated effectively (it is too early yet). But I appreciate the problems that going blind inflicts on us.

    Ned, you are a hero a real 32767, a ‘full’ word….

    You and D seem to run this site 7 days a week, and we appreciate it. It is the ‘mecca’ for the CJ world! It where we all turn to for clarity and understanding. Ned, your pain is not in vain (ouch!)

  6. I just want to wish you a full and speedy recovery. I read your website daily. what you are doing is incredibly value. thank you so much

  7. Takuan Seiyo : ‘ experiencing the first public performance of the 9th Symphony ‘.

    Takuan I seem to think the 9th Symphony is also known as the ‘Ode to Joy’.

    I lot of us in the UK and other European countries avoid this symphony like the plague since the EU adopted it as their ‘National Anthem’.

    • It’s a shame that such a magnificent piece of music is being “abused” by a totalitarian entity.

      I no longer enjoy listening to the Ode to Joy because I do not feel joy with respect to the European Union.

    • I urge you to read my, by now five-year-old, “Music We Can Believe In” It discusses the 9th Symphony and recommends its first movement rather than the last one, The Ode to Joy, now sullied by the EU. There is also a disquisition there on the Egmont Overture. The musical YouTube links are probably dry now, but if you seek out new links for the Karajan 9th Symphony performance and the Celibidache Egmont performance (both with the Berlin Philharmonic), I promise you’ll be amply rewarded.

      Anyway, the context here was not Beethoven’s music but the Baron’s trouble with his eyes. By likening his life on the brink of blindness — and remember this is a painter we are talking about — to Beethoven’s deafness I was paying homage to a gifted, virtuous and important man, Edward May — though perhaps future generations will discover his importance in hindsight more than the current generation has (a common fate of great artists too).

      • Schiller originally called his Ode “An die Freiheit” (“To Freedom”), but this was too controversial following the French Revolution so he changed it. As Beethoven thought about setting it for 25 years or more, I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew this.

        I’d be extremely surprised if Leonard Bernstein was unaware of it when he performed it as “Freiheit” in Berlin after the Wall came down in 1989, and I prefer his 1979 version to Karajan, but IMHO Furtwangler rules (Bayreuth ’51).

        Warm greetings indeed to the Baron and Dymphna.

  8. Eloquent thoughtfulness from the Baron and heartfelt comments from Dymphna and others. Gates of Vienna is making a valuable contribution to our culture and doing it in great style. Bravo!!

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