This morning, I became a grown-up: I attempted to remove glasses from my face that were already in my fist.
For those of you who are lifelong glasses-wearers (it is almost 40 years for me), you know that there are several distinct methods of removing eyeglasses and several messages that are communicated in the manner of their removal. Off the top of my head, there’s Two-handed and Thoughtful, One-handed and from the Right and Angry (I usually drop or accidentally fling my glasses across the room with that one), and One-handed and from the Left and Trying to Get to the Heart of Things. There are others. Putting them on in front of people communicates pretty much one thing and one thing only: Enough Fun, Everyone. Back to Work.
I do not remember right now which message I was going for this morning, but both hands were heading for my face, so it must have been Two-handed and Thoughtful or maybe simply Pensive, but like an indecisive ASL translator, I saw the glasses in my left hand as they came towards my face, so I doubled-down and confused everyone including me by improvising this: I scratched my face with the folded-up glasses, moved them from my left hand to my right, opened them, put them on, and then removed them with my left hand—One-handed and Getting to the Heart of Things. All in about five spastic seconds.
It was like semaphore, but with glasses.
It was also such a complete set of mixed messages that I should not have been surprised if someone threw a grenade at me. In some cultures, I probably requested that. It would have almost completely relieved my red-faced embarrassment.
And it was all because I was surprised. I do not do slightly forgetful things. Strike that. I believe, deep down where I know me better than anyone, that I do not do slightly forgetful things at all ever. Misplacing my glasses is something that rests just this side of awful. I had laser surgery earlier this year, which transformed me from a wearer of Bible-thick lenses from my teen years until I had the surgery to a far-sighted person who can now wear cheap, dollar store reading glasses for reading. Thus I have actually left the house without my glasses. Why? I do not do slightly forgetful things. Not me. Not someone so organized I would arrange my pens alphabetically if I could decide on an issue that this would address or simply figure out how to do it.
And simple, insistent, rigid organization has always prevented me from forgetting things: Keys in the same place every night. Wallet, too. Glasses on my bookshelf. Check, check, and check. And I have left the house minus each one of these in turn recently. I need to re-organize the role of organization in my life.
So there it was this morning: Grown-upitude in all its vanity-defeating ingloriousness. In its lapses and gaps. “Mind the Gap” isn’t just a sign for British rail passengers; it should be stamped on my forehead.
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In “Losing the Marbles,” James Merrill calls memory lapses “dreamy blinkings-out.” It is a passage of life in which, ideally, one learns to forget. It is a frustrating one more thing to be balanced against the pleasures of life in the moment, the eternal moment, the always now. Thus, memory lapses are a sort of grace in that they place the forgetter firmly in the present.
Losing The Marbles
for John Malcolm Brinnin
Morning spent looking for my calendar—
Ten whole months mislaid, name and address,
A groaning board swept clean …
And what were we talking about at lunch? Another
Marble gone. Those later years, Charmides,
Will see the mind eroded featureless.
Ah. We’d been imagining our “heaven”s.
Mine was to be an acrobat in Athens
Back when the Parthenon—
Its looted nymphs and warriors pristine
By the early light or noon light—dwelt
Upon the city like a philosopher,
Who now—well, you have seen.
Here in the gathering dusk one could no doubt
“Rage against the dying of the light.”
But really—rage? (So like the Athens press,
Breathing fire to get the marbles back.)
Those dreamy blinkings-out
Strike me as grace, if I may say so,
Yes, but of utmost clemency at work,
Whereby the human stuff, ready or not,
Tumbles, one last drum-roll, into thyme,
Out of time, with just the fossil quirk
At heart to prove—hold on, don’t tell me … What?
—from The Inner Room (1988)
Merrill develops a connection between the commonplace expression “losing one’s marbles” and needing to find an acceptance of this reality of life and the centuries of rage at the theft from the Parthenon of most of its sculptures, its “marbles.” One can rage or one can find grace and acceptance and … I lost the thought. Sorry.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 29 asks, “When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?”
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