It’s pretty weird to watch your eyesight dim. Over the past 6 months or so I’ve noticed my eyesight degrading surprisingly fast. I learned a few months ago that I’ve developed cataracts in both eyes. My right eye is significantly worse, and it is at the point that I can still see light, but I can’t really make out objects any more. I have some some difficulty reading unless I close my right eye. But now my left eye is getting worse too. I’m scheduled for cataract surgery on December 1st. Every day I wake up feeling grateful that modern science has made it possible to try to repair them, and doctors have gotten pretty good at it.
This will sound pretentious and/or melodramatic but this situation reminded me of how the writer Borges went slowly blind by the age of 55. I’m just a few years shy of that. It’s hard to imagine someone who treasured their eyes and reading more than Borges. I’m no writer, but I do rely heavily on my eyes to do my work as a software developer, so I can relate a little.
When I first read his poem In Praise of Darkness in my twenties I found it strangely comforting. This idea of a far off dimming as an old man, lost in memories, losing memories, a stripping away that leaves an essence. But now it has an unsettling edge to it–especially as I remember that Borges was reportedly frightened of mirrors. If there was a solution to the algebra of the self, would you want to know what it was?
In Praise of Darkness
Old age (this is the name that others give it)
may prove a time of happiness.
The animal is dead or nearly dead;
man and soul go on.
I live among vague whitish shapes
that are not darkness yet.
which once broke up in a tatter of slums and open lots
out toward the endless plain,
is now again the graveyard of the Recoleta,
the Retiro square,
the shabby streets of the old Westside,
and the few vanishing decrepit houses,
that we still call the South.
All through my life things were too many.
To think, Democritus tore out his eyes;
time has been my Democritus.
This growing dark is slow and brings no pain;
it flows along an easy slope
and is akin to eternity.
My friends are faceless,
women are as they were years back,
one street corner is taken for another,
on the pages of books there are no letters.
All this should make me uneasy,
but there’s a restfulness about it, a going back.
Of the many generations of books on earth
I have read only a few,
the few that in my mind I go on reading still–
reading and changing.
From south and east and west and north,
roads coming together have led me
to my secret center.
These roads were footsteps and echoes,
women, men, agonies, rebirths,
days and nights,
falling asleep and dreams,
each single moment of my yesterdays
and of the world’s yesterdays,
the firm sword of the Dane and the moon
of the Persians,
the deeds of the dead,
shared love, words,
Emerson, and snow, and so many things.
Now I can forget them. I reach my center,
my algebra and my key,
Soon I shall know who I am.