Eyesight in old age: even more precious

Eyes, I love you. You give me tender gifts of sight, and vision and revision, you let me view and review and reflect. Just saying. Because eyesight in old age is so precious. Because in old age, we know what we’ve lost and we deeply appreciate what remains.

If you’re able, you go about your day with your eyes open, whatever your age. As a child, to whom every sight is new and astonishing. As an old person, grateful for the honour of being able to see what’s under her nose.

These things my eyes viewed last Friday.

Two old villas, one yellow, one white, blue and orange

Colour. Shape. Proportion. History. Humanity. Two old houses in Wellington (Aotearoa New Zealand) that I pass almost daily.

I’m walking to the gym, passing dozens of houses that have been patched up and extended and modified and painted and tinkered with over many decades. A succession of owners have put their mark on all the homes around here in Mt Vic. Their marks say this is mine, my choice, my colour, my way to fix what was, in my eyes, wrong.

Sighted: trunk and leaves of a very old pohutukawa tree.

Shall we aim to grow old like this front-yard pohutukawa tree?

Seeing an old pohutukawa for the umpteenth time, trapped in suburbia, an ecosystem of birds and insects and parasite plants. I give it a pat on the trunk for showing us a model of old stamina, size, strength, and purpose.

Two white flowers seen between boards of a pavement fence

Seen: tiny impatiens flowers pushing through a fence

Also seen that day: fresh white flowers looking at me through the boards of a fence.

huge sunset over Wellington, Aotearoa-New Zealand

Every sunset is a vision, whether pastel calm or uproarious like this one

When the sun sets, we can appreciate the Wellington Lantern Festival on the waterfront.

reflections of colourful lanterns in water below wharf structures

Reflecting lanterns at the lantern festival, start of the Chinese New Year

Just by seeing, we are reflecting. That’s not quite true, but when an image hits our eyeballs, a moment happens. We cannot un-see what we saw. A thought or feeling occurs. It bounces back to the image.

Small child shows delight at a large light-filled colourful fish sculpture

Child views fish. For a child, seeing is a full-body experience.

Can we share that child’s experience? When you see something new โ€” and you respond with shock and delight that engages your entire body?

Dying hydrangea flowers in a vase, spotty and pretty

Seeing the beauty of the aging hydrangea flowers

On the way home, I steal some dying hydrangea flowers poking over the footpath. Last week they were bright blue. Now their time is almost done. I put them in a tea bowl from Kyoto which (blasphemously) I’ve been using as a vase for years.

I doubt that I can age like a pohutukawa tree: that’s a grandiose ambition, appropriate for great national leaders but not little old lady poets. More likely and more lovably, let me age like a hydrangea flower. Spotty with age spots. Slowly curling drying and shrinking, and surrounded by a huge compatible family.ย  Eyes closing.

Eyes, I love you. Eyesight in old age, I appreciate you more than ever.

15 thoughts on “Eyesight in old age: even more precious

  1. Beautifully put and so true. Love the photos. I’m putting together a blog post too about things seen while walking …

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I suddenly wanted to share some of the photos that accumulate on the phone. I look forward to your walking post.

  2. I enjoyed your thoughts and photos. My aunt’s eyesight deteriorated until she couldn’t read – that would be terrible. I juggle between long-distance and reading glasses and do my best to make the most of everything I can read and see, both of which I have more time to do in retirement.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you, Anne. Atul Gawande in “Being Mortal” bids us to name the exact thing that we treasure most, and for many of my friends, it is reading.

  3. Much better to use that tea bowl for something beautiful, thus multiplying its own beauty.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Peter, you’re so right. Luckily it’s not an antique bowl with astronomical value, and I don’t drink thick green tea. So after a few years of hesitation, I demoted it. Now I use and admire it frequently.

      1. I have a large Wedgwood pot that is from around 1954. I inherited it from Mum who had been given it by my big sister who worked at the factory when she left school. I have always kept a large pot plant in it and people who see it are horrified that it is not kept in a cabinet, on display. I love it, and the fact that it is in daily use. A reminder of both my Mum and my Sister.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Quite right. Life’s too short to worship pretty objects.

  4. Sadje says:

    A beautiful post. Lovely pictures. We should indeed cherish the gift of sight above all others.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Sadie. I’m aware of my great good luck –which includes both eyesight and iPhone. Glad you like the photos.

      1. Sadje says:

        Youโ€™re welcome Rachel. ๐Ÿ˜ป๐Ÿ˜

  5. srbottch says:

    Spot on. But itโ€™s not just for us old ones. I tell the youngsters I cross to look about their environment regularly, soak in the amazing sights in their immediate surroundings. There is much to see and remember it as it pertains to us. A++ for this post!๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I appreciate my eyes every day. I am scheduled for my first cataract surgery in a couple of months. I guess that is a real sign of aging eyes.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Half my family swear by this laser operation. (My own cataracts grow sloooooowwwwly.)

      1. Elizabeth says:

        Mine were slowly growing but then had an unfortunate growth spurt.

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