I had a crush on my last ophthalmologist. He seemed very tall, striding into the small confines of the exam room, dark hair contrasting with his crisp, white lab coat. He was exceedingly charismatic, popular with patients and staff, and had a French surname which didn’t hurt a bit. I began to think of him as America’s Boyfriend, which I know is supposed to be Anderson Cooper but is really Dr. Barreau.
I was sorry when Dr. Barreau left the practice and neutral, if not a bit wary, about his replacement. My new doctor appears humorless, pretty tightly wound, and alarmingly young.
He’s been advising me to get some surgery ever since he joined this group of physicians, but he seems like a baby. He mentions it yet again as I gaze at his youthful left ear inches away on the other side of the autorefractor, and I think… baby wants practice.
He leaves the room, encouraging me to watch a video extolling the virtues of his new laser, and I think… baby has a new toy. Then his tech comes in with a questionnaire that asks, “On a scale of one to ten, how easygoing are you?” To paraphrase, on the left, the choice is: “I’m an unreasonable perfectionist,” and on the right, the choice is, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” I consider this a minute and think…baby wants wiggle room because the context of this question makes no sense. I mean, I’m laid back about traffic backups, but I wouldn’t be cool with, for instance, surgery on the wrong eye.
I’m thinking this over, stuck in traffic when I notice the SUV in front of me has a bumper sticker that says, “Angry Mob.” Intrigued, I ease cautiously closer and see it actually says, “Angry Mom.” A little closer and I realize it says, “Army Mom,” and I think, Oh, geez, baby knows what he’s talking about. I schedule surgery.
My physician does a fabulous job; I’m sorry I doubted him. He was right, he was skilled, and I no longer need glasses to read the menu in dimly lit restaurants. In fact, I no longer need glasses at all. But even with eye surgery, I can’t see the forest for the trees. The energy I spend living out each day’s obligations doesn’t allow me to plan ahead, to consider what these days look like if I gather them all in my arms and call them a life? Doctor, can you fix that?
I’m so immersed in getting chores done, editing others’ work, walking the dog, doing the laundry, transplanting the perennials, studying astronomy, scrubbing the kitchen, doing what feels good in the moment with no regard for the long run (oops), that the big stuff, the reason-you’re-here-stuff just stumps me. Doctor, can you fix that?
I think about the people who drew the Nazca lines 2500 years ago–the geoglyphs on the desert plateau in southern Peru. The hummingbird, the spider, and the monkey are so massive their shapes are unrecognizable from the ground, where you can only see about 3 miles, hindered by the curvature of the planet and the atmosphere. Drawn on the earth, they are only discernible from the sky.
I’m standing on my life’s Nazca lines. How can I see the big picture when I can see only the past as a shadow and the present in parts? (Why didn’t we take more vacations? Have I watered the hanging basket on the porch?)
From where I stand, I can only see to the end of the street. But from the perspective of the stars, I’d see all the roads in my neighborhood, all the intersections. All the signs instructing me to yield or to merge, perhaps to change lanes or to get off the road altogether. I’d know which streets are one-way, where to make a U-turn. Maybe I’d see my destination and the most efficient way to get there, or the most scenic route. But the Nazca had no access to the sky. How did they create art for the ages that they couldn’t see?
We have a theory now that sounds plausible. The Nazca carefully and incrementally scaled up a smaller drawing. Maybe that’s all we need to do: Scale up love itself.
One day without criticizing others becomes two, and then ten. One spontaneous act of kindness becomes a hundred, then a habit. One day lived with authenticity becomes all our remaining years, the pattern of our lives a rendering observable only from the height of heaven.
Where there is a plan so big, we can’t see it.
Laura J. Oliver is an award-winning developmental book editor and writing coach, who has taught writing at the University of Maryland and St. John’s College. She is the author of The Story Within (Penguin Random House). Co-creator of The Writing Intensive at St. John’s College, she is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction, an Anne Arundel County Arts Council Literary Arts Award winner, a two-time Glimmer Train Short Fiction finalist, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her website can be found here.