Friday, June 15, 2012
The Crossed-eyed Optimist
When I was six weeks old my mother noticed my right eye turned in. I think I was checking out my nose. People stick their faces close to a baby’s and I saw some real honkers on some of the folks who were cooing at me. My guess is I wanted to make sure I didn’t grow a Pinnochio schnoozola in the middle of MY countenance.
Fortunately, I didn’t. A small beak has graced my punim for more than five decades. Unfortunately my lazy eye stuck with me. Two surgeries later and my crossed eye (a condition known as strabismus) is not as noticeable, but it is there. Rather than fight it, I decided to embrace it.
The cross-eyed optimist has a unique way of looking at things and I want to share that with you.
As many self-help authors and philosophers have stated, it’s not what happens to you, but rather your attitude about what happens that matters. It makes me think of that joke about the kid who wanted a pony for Christmas. The child was an extreme optimist and no matter how many times his parents told the boy they could not afford a pony the child never lost hope. Finally, in disgust, the child’s older brother wrapped up a box of horse manure. When the little optimist opened the stinky present instead of being upset he was absolutely gleeful. He excitedly exclaimed, “I found the poop, now all I have to do is find the pony that goes with it.”
This analogy is usually meant as a slam against optimism, but I find the story encouraging. And whenever I think of it I hope that somewhere a hopeful boy or girl is getting the pony they wished for, even if they don’t get it until they are old enough to buy one and shovel the poop themselves.
My world view has always been a bit skewed. Due to my strabismus I never developed depth perception. My mother noticed something was wrong when I was a baby and I would reach for an object and miss it on the first and sometimes second attempts. This became more obvious when I was learning to drink from a cup. I would invariably knock the glass over. But, the good parents that they were, they never yelled at me about the spilled milk.
In time I learned to adapt. I occasionally bump into things, but I can drink milk without wearing it (most of the time) hit a tennis ball, catch a softball, play golf and perform a variety of tasks without anyone being the wiser. Driving a car is probably the most difficult task I cope with my lack of depth perception. However, once again I’ve dealt with the issue. I have learned to be cautious, courteous and give other drivers plenty of room. Tailgaiting is absolutely out of the question.
The outward appearance of living life with strabismus was more problematic. People would comment about it, some kids teased me, and others simply asked if I was looking at them or not. I got in the habit of avoiding eye contact with folks (something I’m still working on.) Much to my chagrin the “turned in” eye became even more pronounced in pictures. I adapted by acting like a clown, especially when a camera was in sight. It is rare to find a picture of me when I’m younger where I’m not sporting a silly rubber-face pose only Jerry Lewis or Jim Carey would admire.
However, what had been a setback became the impetus for me to develop my sense of humor. I learned how to tell a joke before I toddled off to school. I gained more empathy for others who were “different” whether that meant befriending boys and girls of color, different religions or those who had physical or mental disabilities. Many of these childhood acquaintances are still my loyal friends more than 45 years later.
My ability to tell and create original jokes morphed into expertise to create stories with comedic overtones. I don’t make funny faces at the camera any more (for the most part.) However, I can still pull a few goofy stunts out of my hat. My quacking Donald Duck sneeze is still a favorite with my granddaughters. They laugh and say, “Grandma, you’re silly.” Hey better to sound like a duck than look like a duck.
I can’t say that I’m happy I was born with a lazy eye. I was relieved neither of my daughters inherited this trait, nor did my granddaughters. However, they have been exposed to my slightly skewed view of the world and take joy in what I’ve learned from the experience. They embrace diversity in their friendships, they are compassionate and they never tailgate while driving. They’re still working on the Donald Duck sneeze.
The bottom line is we are all unique. We can curse our perceived deficiencies or use it as a catalyst for self growth. I think Roald Dahl said it best.
“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”