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Prairie Notes: Clearer vision


Fri, Dec 27th, 2002
Posted in Columnists

Coming of age during the 70ís when we stopped using outdoor lights and started driving 55 in order to save energy makes me hesitant to applaud the proliferation of Christmas lights, but I am awed by the extent to which we will go to celebrate the season.

Drive through our small towns after dark and youíll see what I mean. Most of the homes look as though theyíve simply burst with strings and swags of starshine white, poinsettia red, pine green or true blue. This feast of color adorns houses, garages, trees, anything that can host an extension cord. The lights invite us to share the joy, and I know we do; but some of us may enjoy those lights more than others.

To experience the lights from a totally different perspective, you need poor vision. Thatís right. For once, it pays to have vision like mine: 20/400 without correction. Poor as it is, I rarely take my vision for granted. I may even appreciate sight more than others with perfect vision; after all, my livelihood consists of reading, reading, and more reading as well as seeking out every face in the classroom for signs of puzzlement, frustration, or that amazing "aha!" look when a student finally understands a concept.

But at Christmas I revel in my poor eyesight, and you can, too: if you have poor vision, get someone to drive you through town to see the lights. Then, take off your glasses or take out your contacts. Now look. While others see distinct individual lights, you now see explosions of color expanding into space or stretching so pointedly to merge with other colors that the very lights themselves pulsate. Entire lots turn into impressionist paintings stretching yard upon yard upon yard. Try it. You can learn to love your nearsightedness.

I can do other tricks with my vision as well, but they require more thought and much more strenuous effort. My career/ stress vision shows me that to succeed I need to earn a masterís degree, create phenomenal lesson plans for every class every day, keep track of each childís individual writing goals and reading comprehension growth as well as grades and social interactions and general mental health which should be communicated to the parents as well as appropriately certified colleagues on a daily basis. As a teacher, I should lead the way in welcoming new technology by integrating web resources, creating a frequently-updated web page, keeping communications with parents and students open through e-mails and phone calls, and learning how to use a myriad of other inventions in my classroom. If Iím not careful, I can allow these pressures to become the main focus of my day; but if I remember my trick, my 20/400 vision allows me to see only whatís right in front of me: the students who expect me to help them that moment. I can do that. Iíve begun working on most of the other things, but I cannot do it all today.

As a farm girl with Scandinavian roots, I also suffer from work / work vision. Basically, that means if I am not awake by 6 A.M., if I am not doing two or three things at one time, and if I ever just sit down solely to read for pleasure I consider myself a lazy bum. Relaxation requires an inordinate amount of effort for me, especially since my mother always kept a clean home and made real meals. Imagine the stress of coming home after twelve hours of work to find dust so thick you could line a quilt with it and only frozen pizza in the freezer! But if I fine-tune the poor eyesight trick, I manage to blur that vision and see beyond the clutter and junk food so that I can talk with my son as we work together to put pizza in the oven for the fourth time this week or focus as my husband tells me the story of his day. No one can guarantee that we will be together tomorrow. They are here now. I can focus on them now. I donít always remember this trick, but I try.

As Christmas and New Year holidays signal the end of the old and the beginning of the new, they create a perfect avenue to promote a plan to change our routine ways of doing and thinking, and instead, revel in nearsightedness. Focus on those nearest to you; focus on those who look to you for help; focus on those things you can do rather than worrying about those you simply cannot do; and focus on the blessings and beauty that surround our too-brief moments on this earth.

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