It never ceases to amaze me that a week’s worth of events, upon reflection, seem to insist on coming together and to show themselves united by a single theme. The week just past proved the point and left me with no alternative for the title of this Street Seens. Please note that this theory is being espoused by someone you’ve heard say, over and over: “There are no coincidences in life!” So, join me in agreeing “The eyes have it.”
The “Eclipse” part of today’s title should be no surprise. The much-heralded approach of the total eclipse of the sun on August 21 puts the world in touch with a true rarity that has not been observed in the US for a century or so. My friends Olive and Bert Schwarzschild are planning their viewing of the eclipse with all the intelligence and sophistication you would expect from a particle physicist and a gifted international marketer. They have scheduled a trip to Charleston, South Carolina which they tell me is pretty much the optimum location from which to observe it. So, equipped with the required protective eyewear they have owned for months, they will set off to visit friends who migrated from Connecticut long before it was evident that the new home put them in a “sweet spot” in what Bert referred to as the “totality belt.” That is the zone wherein the total eclipse can be observed at what people lacking the physicist’s precision, would describe, as the very best vantage point for seeing the eclipse in its totality. The fact that this belt stretches all across the country from Oregon to South Carolina accounts for its rarity.
The other half of the title only partly refers to the dire warnings about the danger of viewing a total solar eclipse without aid of the proper protective viewing glasses. Without these, huge damage can be done to your eyes. On a graded scale that outcome is the “great granddaddy” of fears and one you want never to have. Happily, this fear can easily be turned into optimism and a very positive experience. There’s a clear path from problem to solution and so a win/win experience in a universe of fears, confidently takes center stage.
Eleanor Cicerchi’s emergence on LinkedIn reminded me of another face of fear and the less simple, but unquestionably possible road (or maybe I should say “flight plan”) from fear to optimism. Eleanor was the champion of practical hope who helped me come to know and work for years with a singular airborne teaching hospital of ophthalmology.
Earlier Street Seens have portrayed a unique mission of its war to combat preventable blindness with a winning combination of: going to where the problem is; bringing the doctors who know best how to solve them to that place; having them share insights and intelligence with the medical professionals who live and work there and who can watch their treatment of local patients; and finally, leaving behind the insight and the tools that will make them able to continue the healing after ORBIS leaves. I saw that brilliant formula at work in Cuba in the year 2000 and I can only hope that the miracles continue. The President of ORBIS at that time taught her designated speech writer that the awareness that turns theory and practice into support for the work, is that the stark reality that fear of blindness is likely to be a sighted human being’s greatest fear. Pina Taormina would insist that her speeches to ORBIS supporters include a call to her hearers to close their eyes for 15 seconds and then ask what it would mean if that darkness were to last a lifetime. What her audiences experienced was a moving, frightening awareness that brought tears to the eyes of US Presidents and captains of industry.
The principal cause of blindness around too much of our world is cataracts. That is scandalous since it is a short outpatient procedure (probably far more demanding on the doctor than on the patient.) Where medical equipment and skills are not readily available to individuals and families, the diagnosis means as patients’ eyesight fades at least one more person will have to leave the work force to care for that individual.
The unexpected reappearance of Eleanor, reminded me of why I consider her a champion of hope over fear. As her career has taken her across the northeast she has consistently stood for believing in people’s ability to banish fear and applied her talents for development to causes from Amfar to Save the Children; to empowering the arts by building well-targeted endowments. You might call it a career of eclipsing fear.
As a person fortunate enough to live near great teaching hospitals I observe and experience the readiness of their medical professionals and staffs to respond to calls for help for issues large and small. When I awoke on Monday to eyes that moved me to consider trying out for the lead in a Geico commercial, I called the practice of Dr. Christopher Starr at Weill Cornell Medical, asked if I might somehow be fitted into that day’s already fully booked schedule. The answer was “Yes,” and before day’s end I had been seen, the issue identified and the cure prescribed. So not only was fear eclipsed, but by amazing professionals who must share some of the questions and anxieties that trouble the rest of our health care-concerned population. Once again, fear is eclipsed, this time by patient-centered dedication.
But we must not neglect to applaud the individuals who have good reason to let fear stop them, but don’t. When an elegant lady with an elegant and melodious British accent read lessons from Scripture at our parish, it was always a delight. When she opted out of that ministry due to worsening macular degeneration, I mistakenly thought she might also abandon some of the other challenging pursuits of her life. So, I asked Valerie Gimbel one day, “Are you quite sure it’s a great idea for you to be riding in the hunt?” To which she answered in her typical understated gallantry “Darling it’s not as important that I see as that my horse does.” May her tribe increase! The good news is that she has consented (grudgingly I suspect) to replace the hat of her traditional riding habit with a hardy helmet.
Being a person who puts a lot of stock in branding, I also found that I had an automatic sympathy for anything that was done by the companies whose names appear on irreplaceable components of healing. For example, the phacoemulsification equipment doctors use to remove cataracts and implant new lenses in a unified procedure. When I see the name of Alcon, for example on eye drops, I am immediately disposed to trust them.
So, when you see the astounding feat of nature that is a total solar eclipse (and don’t dare do that without the proper viewing glasses) let it remind you that every great wonder is also a triumph over fear. The heady blend of hope, courage and generosity simply cannot be eclipsed.