Losing my eyesight helped me see more clearly.....................

AFTER I woke up one morning several years ago with freakishly blurred vision, doctor's figured out quickly what was wrong : I had a rare stroke of sorts. Overnight, it had ravaged the optic nerve behind my right eye.

Worst-case scenario? The left eye would follow suit, leaving me blind. Best? Some improvement. Much adjustment. But I'd never see as clearly as before.

And, indeed, I didn't. A thin but permanent fog hangs over the right edge of my field of vision, awaiting a sun that never comes. I sometimes confuse objects' exact positioning in relation to one another, so I often ''love'' when I should ''live'' and ''live'' when I should ''love,'' the ''i'' and ''o'' being next-door neighbors on keypads.

And my depth perception can be out of whack, as people who had me serve wine to them in the months after my stroke can attest. I'd overshoot their glasses and slash nebbiolo on their laps.

I stopped pouring. I stewed in frustration. I lived in suspense, willing my left eye to hang in there. And as it did, there was a blessed development that the doctors didn't augur : Bit by bit, the people around me came into sharper focus, by which I mean that their fears, struggles and triumphs did.

The paradox of my own situation - I was outwardly unchanged but roiling inside - made me newly alert to a fundamental truth : 

There's almost always a discrepancy between how people appear to us and what they're actually experiencing; between their public gloss and private mess; between their tally of accomplishments -measured in money, rankings, ratings and awards - and a hidden, more consequential accounting. I'd long known that. We all do. But I'm not sure how keenly we register it, how steadily we remember it.

And that truth helped me reframe the silly question ''Why me?'' into the smarter ''Why not me?'' It was a guard against anger, an antidote to self-pity, so much which hinges on the conviction, usually a delusion, that you're grinding out your days while the people around you glide through theirs, that you've landed in the bramble to their clover.

To feel sorry for yourself is to ignore that everyone is vulnerable to intense pain and that almost everyone has worked or is working through some version of it.

Imagine that our hardships, our hurdles, our demons were spelled out for everyone around us to see.  Imagine that each of us donned a sandwich board that itemized them.

''Single parent, child with special needs, nowhere near enough help.'' A woman I know would be wearing that, and her acquaintances would rightly find her ability to hold down a fulltime job and her unflagging professionalism in it not just admirable but heroic.

They'd instantly forgive her any tiny lapses of memory, any fleeting impatience, because they'd understand what a miracle it was that the lapses were only tiny and the impatience merely fleeting.

''Road accident, broken bones, reconstructive surgeries, can no longer fully feel a kiss.'' A man I am acquainted with would be wearing that, the shorthand for an ordeal that lasted years and forever altered his appearance.

He'd be the object of wonder at his optimism and cheer. He'd be an example and admonishment to the defeatists in his orbit.

''Plane crash, prosthetic leg, dead 8-year-old son.'' A fellow writer who used the same Manhattan workout space that I did would be wearing that, the succinct summary of a harrowing story.

Flying was a hobby of his, and he was piloting the aircraft when it went down, killing his lone passenger, his only child. He almost lost his second leg and spent the next five months in treatment centers.

I learned all of this not from him but from other acquaintances of his and only after many upbeat, spirited chats with him that gave no hint of it. I was stunned and humbled.

''Debilitating headaches, near-constant shrieking in ears, frequent thoughts of suicide.''

That's what a celebrity who once confided in me would be wearing, and I doubt that anyone who had ever coveted this person's fame and riches would trade places, hot on those terms. The revelation left me awe-struck, because its revealer just kept pressing on.

Some of these sandwich boards were legible to me because I was now reading the world differently and some were presented to me by people who knew what my own sandwich board said. [''Eyesight compromised, could go blind.'']

I didn't have to compel the people in question to share what they were going through. It would dribble out in asides and unguarded moments, and I just had to be sensitive enough to hear and hold on to the details. I now was.

The Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author Frank Bruni.


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