Myopia runs strong on both sides of my family, so it wasn’t so much of a surprise when I began to lose my eyesight while in China last year (I am 24 years old, for reference). While it happened gradually enough that I was under no illusions as to what was going on, it still came as quite of a shock given that I had always – even in my early 20s – been proud of how much more ‘able’ I was than my lens-bound parents and relatives.
Of course China is the glasses capital of the world, so I was able to alleviate my state of hindrance by purchasing a (relatively cheap) pair of excellent glasses that allowed me to see better than I had in years. I’ve worn these since and practically forgotten about my blindness in the course of doing so.
Yesterday, I left my glasses at a house after attending a party, but I still have to work because I’m on a 9-5 schedule. Having to squint to merely make out the writing on a computer screen just a foot away from me, and maximize all the windows simply so I can see is a pretty humbling experience. It’s a reminder that almost all aspects of our ‘normal’ lives are enabled by a complex web of industry and technology working in cohesion to bring us a better quality of life enabled by the profit motive. Without that, we’d have nothing. We would still be troglodytes in caves; tribesmen on the African savannah.
One day, that web will collapse. Anyone skeptical of this proposition should realize that their denialism is equivalent to asserting that humans and the (exceedingly fragile) societies we have built up will last forever. In ‘real’ reality, there is no forever. There is only entropy, particle decay, and the heat death of the universe. There is only the greed of men, the biological impetus to reproduce, and the blazing heat of the atomic fire that one day will rend our very atoms asunder.
It may seem strange that losing one’s glasses could provide so poignant an opportunity to recognize and reflect these facts. But it is the experience of loss, and the revelatory acknowledgment of one’s own vulnerability, that allows us to recognize that our diligently hidden fragility is no less a part of us than it is a part of the human condition. That ephemerality, I think, is what makes life valuable. That is why life must be protected. But it is also the reason why the atavistic reversion to our pre-civilized state is never as far away as we might like to think.