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The noblest eye is darkened which nature ever made, an eye so privileged and so gifted with rare qualities that it may be with truth be said to have seen more than the eyes of all those who are gone, and to have opened the eyes of all those who are to come. —Galileo eulogizing his blind eye
The Blind Spot Experiment
In that eternity before time, God rubbed the infinite density of the cosmic genie's lamp and was granted three wishes: space, life, and consciousness. Thus, mystery shattered into universe. Blind retinas learned to tap-tap canes of light to feel the cosmos's bright caress. Mind filled the gaps in nature with reason, perception, and faith. Blindness persisted:
1) Cover your left eye with the palm of your left hand.
2) Locate a doorknob across the room. Stare at it with your open right eye.
3) Fully extend your right arm, thumb pointed upward, until your thumbnail appears directly beside the knob.
4) Without moving your eye from the knob, slowly move your thumb horizontally to the right by fifteen degrees (depending on the length of your arm, six, maybe twelve inches) until you discover—out of the corner of your eye—a spot in space where the top of your thumb vanishes.
Using experiment—that science of quoting nature out of context—we have revealed your blind spot: an abyss customarily filled by the habits of touch. Eyes, unlike hearts, yearn for the tangible. How do I know? I'm a behavioral optometrist. We imagine that vision and behavior are intimately linked, each shaping the other like lovers in an embrace. We read the lenses of your glasses like tea leaves, believing they reflect your past and predict your future. In that future, it may become harder to see a needle's eye than to pass through it. But fear not. With optics, all things are possible.
—Dr. Gary Spindel, Behavioral Optometrist
In the days before the cult, my blind spots were expanding dangerously due to optic nerves swollen with desire. At that time, my world was largely confined to an eight-by-twenty-foot windowless examination lane. At one end was the sacred eye chart, at the other, an exam chair shaded by a stand laden with polished glass and burnished metal manufactured by American Optical, Bausch and Lomb, and Zeiss. As I sat on the hydraulic stool situated next to the cluttered exam table, Christine swept in, her red hair, yellow sweater, and harvest-moon smile eclipsing the grayness. She closed the door behind her and bounded across the room so quickly that the brush of her lips against mine nearly spun me to the floor.
It was Christine's green eyes I first fell in love with, which I suppose is fitting given my line of work. But were her eyes really green? Ocular anatomists believe that eye color is determined by an esoteric blend of eumelanin and pheomelanine, God's designer pigments. When Christine's eyes found mine, though, I lost all consciousness of ocular anatomy
"Your next patient's a really cute little guy," Christine announced. "Rod Giles. He's twelve." She handed me the child's chart. "During the prelims he bombed the visualization and eye movement tests, but you won't believe how hard he tried. I think he's going to do great."
"If we get a chance to work with him," I said. I was still thinking about our previous patient, a second-grader with eye-teaming problems. When we'd told the boy's father the cost of treatment, he explained while winding his Rolex, "That's a lot of money. I'll need a second opinion before I move on this."
Naturally, the man wasn't interested in a second opinion at all; he wanted a different opinion, a cheaper opinion, one that didn't compete with the fees for his personal trainer and new set of golf clubs. That I was a recognized authority in my profession by behavioral optometrists across the nation didn't matter. The father would continue to search until he found a physician who would tell him what he wanted to hear. The doctor—long since convinced that all his opinions, whether based on fact, fantasy, or astrological prediction, were "professional"—would provide one of those universal palliatives:. "It's normal" or "She'll grow out of it." Thus reassured, the father would enjoy a clear conscience and a new set of golf clubs while his daughter suffered from unfocused eyestrain and headaches.
Had my pride been wounded by Mr. Rolex ignoring my advice? Absolutely. But there was something more. I was distraught over failing this child the same way I had failed hundreds of others. Where in optometry school had we been taught to surmount the incredulity that fathers, scraping to compete or provide, often exhibited at the least hint of parting with hard-earned cash? Christine sensed my anxiety.
"I just wish it was that man suffering from the headaches, and not his daughter," she said. Then she hugged me and added, "Don't worry, this one's going to be a piece of cake. The mom found out about us in her home-school group from three other parents whose children we've helped. Just you wait; he's going to be one of our best success stories yet."
"I hope you're right," I said, as Christine kissed the air in my direction, then turned and bounced out of the room. She was positivity itself. The children we saw in the practice loved her as much as I did. Everyone loved her, or so I imagined. Once I'd been a confirmed bachelor routinely quoting my mother's words:. "Half of all marriages don't work; the other half are all work." But that was before Christine. I would have married her in an instant but for one problem:. Her husband was a fool.
Okay, I hear what you're thinking. Maybe I'm the fool. When I look back, it's easy to see that my criticisms of Christine's husband were merely attempts to avoid drowning in the undertow of my own conscience. At the time, I regarded my rationalizations as entirely justified. What can I say? If neuroscience is correct, morality is anatomy. My blind spot made me do it.
Christine came back into the room, her red hair bouncing to the beat of her step. This time she escorted Rod and his mother. The boy, a tall, scrawny towhead with dangling arms and elbows bigger than his biceps, had a crooked-tooth smile that made it impossible not to like him. Warming to Mrs. Giles was another matter. Her expression was severe; her manor, stern; her hair thin, prematurely gray, and pulled into a bun. She moved cautiously, offering me a hand, its fragile appearance belying the strength of her grip.
Christine introduced her as "Ms. Giles."
"I prefer Mrs.," the woman said. "I'm right proud to be my husband's wife."
"Of course, Mrs. Giles," I agreed.
Christine, with an arm about Rod's body shoulders, escorted him to the exam chair. She patted his back and said, "You have nothing to worry about, honey. You're going to do really well." She then smiled at Mrs. Giles and motioned the woman into one of the plastic chairs. Christine's duties complete, she exited, leaving me to take over the process of mitigating the boy's anxieties. I began with a question to which I already knew the answer.
"Rod, how old are you?"
Rob's mom interrupted, "Twelve, what?"
Rod responded, "Twelve, Sir."
I ignored the interruption and instead acted astonished at the coincidence. "Really? That's amazing. I used to be twelve!"
"Everybody used to be twelve," Rod said before glancing at his mother and adding the compulsory "Sir."
"But I was twelve," I boasted, "for almost a whole year!"
This absurdity brought laughter from both mother and son, no "Sir" evidently required after a laugh. The ice broken, I turned to Mrs. Giles and went on with the case history. I dug through the traditional developmental history—when he walked, when he talked, when he noticed girls and began to brush his teeth without his mother's prodding. I looked for symptoms: headaches, avoidance of reading, intermittent blurred vision, the print running together or dancing. I inquired about the results of previous eye examinations, all proclaiming the sanctity of Rod's 20/20 vision. Eventually I unearthed Mrs. Giles's chief complaint, the real reason for the visit.
"My son's bright enough," she said, "but his school work don't show it, leastwise not in reading. Math's right good."
From Rod I found out that if he read "too long" he saw the print running together.
"How long is too long?" I asked.
Rod pondered this before answering, "About ten minutes, Sir."
To avoid making Mrs. Giles guilty or defensive for not being aware of her son's difficulty, I asked Rod, "Have you ever told anyone that the print runs together when you read?"
"No, Sir," the boy said. "Thought everyone saw that way."
To Mrs. Giles I explained, "Only about one in ten of these children ever mention this kind of thing. They assume, just as Rod said, that everyone sees that way."
Mrs. Giles nodded. "Well that sure goes some to explain why he don't like reading, now doesn't it?"
I agreed, finished the case history, and began the actual testing. When I had completed the eye exam, I informed Mrs. Giles, "Rod's eyes are perfect. Each one is healthy and he has 20/20 eyesight; that is, he sees at twenty feet what everyone else should see at twenty feet." To Rod I explained, "What I mean is, without glasses you won't marry an ugly woman by mistake."
Rod laughed and Mrs. Giles allowed a trace of a smile to creep around the edges of her mouth.
"Now, Rod," I continued, "I'm going to do a battery of tests to find out how well you use those perfect eyes."
I brought the boy and his mother into a second, comparatively larger room filled with insipid wall charts, racks of lenses and prisms, and matching gray Formica tables sporting sundry optical instruments. I worked with Rod for far longer than I had during the routine exam portion of the evaluation, demonstrating to him and his mother how his eyes failed to focus when he was forced to attend to visual tasks within arms' reach.
The testing was not complete until Mrs. Giles herself looked into the instruments and observed how different her perceptions were from her son's. As understanding continued to spread across both their faces, we were at last prepared for the consultation that I still hoped would save Rod years of frustration.
At that time, back in the early 1990s, we had a small office in Atlanta. My cluttered, tiny consultation room consisted of four gray walls: two blank, one supporting metal shelves crammed with reference books, the other displaying my optometry school diploma and Georgia license. There was just enough space for my well-scratched, solid vinyl-walnut-topped metal desk and several gray vinyl chairs.
I began the consultation by using plastic model eyes to demonstrate Rod's struggle to keep the print from sliding apart. I explained that this effort caused Rod to fatigue prematurely and also to lose comprehension. I detailed how Rod's inability to coordinate the two muscles inside his eyes with the twelve muscles outside his eyes could be treated.
"There are a series of eye exercises we do using the same instruments you saw in the other room. The exercises will allow Rod to use his eyes together without effort, which in turn will make it easier for him to complete his homework."
Throughout the consultation Mrs. Giles had painfully knit her brow, as though fearful she might miss something. Now she pulled a chewed pencil and a tiny, frayed notebook from her purse and asked, "What do you call those exercises?"
"The three-dollar word for them is vision therapy."
Mrs. Giles wrote this down.
"And what do you call what Rod has?"
"Convergence insufficiency." I demonstrated convergence by turning my own eyes in to view a finger held a few inches before my nose. Then, just in case, I explained what insufficiency meant. Mrs. Giles wrote all this down. When she finished, she said, "I'll tell my husband about this, but I don't suspect he's going to believe me. He thinks that Rod's just lazy."
I imagined I could hear air escaping through my ears as my whole body began to deflate. How could I have blown this? Were the gods against me today, punishing me for my involvement with Christine?
"Rod's not lazy. He has a legitimate vision problem." I asked Rod, "You want to get better, don't you?"
He gave a rapid but constrained series of nods, his face tightening.
"Yes, Sir, very much."
Mrs. Giles was studying me.
"I want him to get better too, but in our household my husband's word is law."
I felt like saying, If your husband is going to pronounce the verdict, why in God's name isn't he here to judge the evidence for himself? Does he consider you nothing but a brainless messenger? Instead I offered, "If your husband doesn't see the need for Rod's therapy, have him call me."
"Oh, no. It's not a wife's role to question her husband's decisions."
"But you know that Rod needs this care."
She regarded me a moment, then arrived at a solution. She opened her purse, put away her pencil and notebook, and took out a dog-eared Bible. Turning to a section near the back, she looked at me, fully resigned, and began reading. And just like that, the consultation was over.
After Rod and his mother left, Christine popped into my office to see how things had gone. As always, I was struck by the symmetry of her face, each side a soft reflection of the other.
"Rod's mom didn't schedule him," I told her.
"You're kidding," she said, her voice sliding toward anger.
Before I could explain what had happened, the intercom buzzed.
"Dr. Spindel, is Christine in there?"
The voice, electronically alloyed and sparkling with youth and static, belonged to Roberta, our receptionist. I answered, "We're in a meeting."
"Tell her Tom's on line one."
After a few seconds, the pressure in my face reminded me to resume breathing. What did Christine's husband want? He seldom called her at work. She frowned. I handed her the receiver and pushed the button to connect the call.
"What's up?" she asked, her voice not quite neutral enough for me, probably not quite interested enough for Tom. Her eyes held my own. She listened for a moment. The lines sketching her frown deepened, providing my first clue as to the subject of the conversation:. Randy. He was probably in trouble again. There was no other subject so capable of destroying the good cheer that Christine worked so hard to maintain. Confronted with her son's over-the-top trespasses, predicaments, and fiascos, Christine spent many nights crying about Randy, the umbilical cord never fully severed. Finally she said, "I'll meet you at the school." Another moment passed. Her eyes left mine, moving almost coyly down to one side.
"Me too," she responded to words I imagined clearly:. Tom's "I love you."
For three years now, Christine had been assuring me of her imminent divorce as fervently as John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of the Lord. On days when this prophesy rang loudest, I beheld a world sparkling with rose-colored certainty. At the moment, though, my view was darkening.
Hyperbole? Yes. Overweening self-pity? You bet. Even so, the interminable emotional debacle of my attempt to steal another man's wife had left me exhausted. In a voice swollen with recrimination and self-righteousness, I repeated Christine's "Me too?" adding the question mark.
Christine's eyes returned to mine. She leaned forward, replaced the receiver, and said lightly, "It wasn't like it sounded. Tom told me he loved Randy, and I said, 'me too.' Quit being an old grump." Her face lit up with that life's-wonderful-and-so-are-you smile that never lost its novelty. Then the smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and she said, "Right now I have to go. Randy's in the principal's office. I'll call you as soon as I can."
"Dr. Spindel, there's a woman on line four."
It was Roberta's faintly metallic voice on the intercom.
"She demands to speak to Gary."
My mood still a tepid puddle on the floor, I asked, "What's she selling?"
The fact that she used my first name told me she had to be a salesperson of some sort.
"It's 'Valerie,' Roberta cooed. "Insists you'll remember her."
Valerie? I scrolled through the screens of my memory. Half a minute of silence later, Roberta laughed, "Should I tell her you're not here?"
"No, it's okay," I said as she connected me.
"Doctor Spindel, here. How may I help you?"
"'Doctor Spindel' now is it? What happened to 'call me Gary'?"
"Valerie? I'm afraid I'm terrible at placing names with faces."
Excerpted from THE ANATOMY OF BLINDNESS by David Cook. Copyright © 2013 David Cook. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Part I: Skeptic.................... 1
Part II: Initiate.................... 71
Part III: Disciple.................... 165
Part IV: Transgressor.................... 237
Part V: Apostate.................... 289
Part VI: Seeker.................... 319