It happens often: my wife looks at me, shakes her head, and says, “Give me your glasses.” Over the years, I’ve learned not to quibble, so I hand over the offending spectacles and wait. She breathes on them front and back, uses a clean cloth to wipe away the streaks, grime and fingerprints, inspects her handiwork, then hands them back to me. I put them on and once again, I’m startled to see a world born anew.
Clarity is a beautiful thing. For all the romantic notions about First Corinthians—“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known”—in this world, right here and now, clean glasses can put everything in much better perspective. I suppose there are all manner of metaphors here—the wonders of transparency, the lucidity of unobstructed vision for starters—but just take my word on this: you see better when your glasses are clean.
If the looking glass hadn’t just been polished, would Alice have walked through it? If Galileo hadn’t had the presence of mind to wipe off his Danish perspective glass with his lace handkerchief, would he have seen the heavens? If soothsayers didn’t occasionally blow the dust off their crystal balls, could they have foretold the future? Admit it: clean glass (or, in my case, clean glasses) makes it easier to move through the day without pratfalls or serious injury.
The only creatures who don’t appreciate clean glass are birds. It doesn’t happen all that often around our house, but imagine how stunned—literally stunned!—is the bird who is flying along when all of a sudden he runs head first in to an invisible wall made of clean glass. If he manages to survive the encounter, what a story he has to tell: “There I was, winging along, minding my own business, when all of a sudden something knocks me out of the sky and I’m seeing stars. I swear, dear, I hadn’t been drinking!”
In this new age of misinformation, clarity is critical. If we aren’t able to see clearly, how are we to distinguish fact from fiction? Looking through smeared lenses, it’s nigh impossible to tell right from wrong, or, for that matter, black from white. Everything appears grey.
In “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ode to Ramses II, the tyrant commands us to “look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” But what if we can’t even see the torture and pain inflicted on us by the despot because our glasses are fogged? We might have an inkling that nothing lasts forever, but in the absence of clear vision, we’re doomed to believe the fool’s folly. We march along, caught in a snare of lies told by a self-anointed king of kings, a man unable to see that his own statue lies in ruins. Sound familiar?
But remember: I’m only writing about my own clean reading glasses. Heaven forbid I should use them as some kind of metaphor to shine a light on a certain “walking shadow, the poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Let’s all keep our glasses clean.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.