My eyes have deteriorated a lot over the last few months, mainly because I‘m writing and using social media far more than I once was. I’m spending a lot of time looking at computer and phone displays really close up. A friend of mine who also used to spend hours a day looking at a computer screen reckons after a couple of years living on a farm with wide skies and long views, his vision has improved amazingly. He says it’s because he gets to look at things which are a long way away all the time now. Tall trees. Horizons. The neighbours paddock. A child swimming across a dam. Gazing at faraway things has improved his phsyical sight, and I venture, his imagination too.
As I look around our own compact home with security grills on every window, itself surrounded closely by other houses all of them shut in on themselves rather than opened up to the outside, it’s no wonder my eyes are so tired. Everything in my world is right there, close-up, in my face. To see something far away, I need to get in my car and drive to somewhere else – somewhere where the land meets the ocean, or the land meets the sky, or things grow which touch both the land and the sky. I wonder if I can retrain my eyes by looking into the distance more often.
When you have cancer, it’s almost like the world closes in around you. You may even pull your walls in closer on purpose to give you something to hold you up, to make you feel safe. You may find it hard, even scary, to look too far into the future. Fear of not even having a future can force us to only look at what’s right in front of us – the here and the now.
We may call this “living in the moment” – it sounds far more romantic than “What’s the point of thinking about the future? I could be dead in a year.”
In the cloister of the cancer world, our days can be reduced to a pattern of eating, drinking, sleeping, and being available for whatever others want to do to us to get rid of the cancer. It often doesn’t feel much like “fighting cancer” – surely that would feel like doing something? We wait for results, we wait for appointments, we wait for the side-effects of treatment to kick in and then abate again. We look at the walls of the inside of the rooms of our house, the insides of waiting rooms and clinics, the insides of cars and buses and taxis. We become dully familiar with places we never even noticed before – that weird space behind the toilet, the dust on the medicine cabinet shelf, the wrinkles on the inside of an elbow.
There is no more wonder, serendipity or spontaneity. The air and the ground and the sea and the growing things must be kept away, and we from them, because they are wild with germs and dirt and chill and could make us even sicker. The walls grow higher. The colours grow duller. The sky moves further away. Our vision for far away things begins to grow cloudy, whilst at the same time our ability to perceive the tiniest change in our body or immediate environment is heightened. Someone moved the soap. I can feel a lump. As night approaches, the sun edges closer to the horizon and the clouds recline before it, aroused into amazing purples and blushing orange and peach and gold….whilst we potter about our living room in our dressing gown and slippers, closing the window against the chill and our myopic eyes against the painful, boring day.
A gift we must give ourselves when we have cancer is the opportunity to see things which are far away.
Things which are outside of us. Things which tower over us, and run beneath us. Things which rush up and lap at our feet. Things which drop away before us. We need to see the sky and the stars and the horizon. Things which are great, and which move very slowly. Things we can only see when the earth turns. The tallness and the depth and the proximity of things.
When you have cancer, take care to preserve your vision. Much like I need a break from this computer screen, and probably a break from this small house and neighbourhood too, you need a break from your small, closed-in world. Your vision – the way your mind, and your soul, sees the world – needs to spend some time out in open spaces, away from the cloister of a cancer experience. Your imagination feeds hope, remember, and bigness, far-awayness, over-theredness feeds your imagination with all the good, nourishing things it needs to stay alive.
Go outside. Go big far away. Look up at the stars. Count the sun-sparkles on the ocean. Run your hands through sand, dirt and stones. Find a place where there’s a wide sky, and lay yourself beneath it. Throw up the blinds, and watch the wind cause chaos. Grow something where you can see it. Throw something somewhere you can’t. Place space before you, and distance behind you. Hope is living as if you’re heading now for everything you want and desire, as if it’s just a matter if time – because one day you’ll get there. You’ll get there. Expand your long-distance vision further and further, and nurture your ability to see into your own future.
Your hope needs somewhere far away to wait for you .
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