The Purple Glasses
Sometimes it takes a little girl who is fascinated with how glasses help her SEE rather than how they make her look to make me realize how fortunate I am.
I like bright colors, but it's been many years since I've had the nerve to wear them. I'm getting older, you see, and fatter. I'm no longer as young and as pretty as I once was. But faced with having an extra $500 in my Health Care Flexible spending account and knowing that I'd have to use it or lose it, I decided to get a second pair of glasses. After all, I wear them every day. Off I went to the optician's shop in an artsy part of town, and when I got there, I dutifully tried on every pair of glasses the optician gave me.
I tried on gold and silver, rimless and wire frames. I tried on round glasses and square glasses and even a pair shaped like octagons. But then the proprietor brought out the purple glasses . . . hand painted with blue, green and orange bows. Each bow was different -- one mostly blue and one mostly orange. And purple. I tried them on just for kicks, knowing I couldn't wear PURPLE glasses in public. But once I had them on, I couldn't stop looking at myself in the mirror. They made me feel younger and happier and braver.
Years ago, I had a pair of purple glasses. I was a graduate student when I bought them, working part time and struggling to get by. They were the cheapest frames I could find, so with some trepidation, I bought them. And to my very great surprise, they made me feel special every time I put them on. I felt pretty and bold. I felt like a risk taker, braver than I really was. I felt happy. Happy was a difficult feeling to come by in those days. But those purple glasses made me feel good about myself.
I finished my degree, got a different job and made more money. I made enough money to afford contacts, and so I got them. I still wore the purple glasses from time to time, but they took the back seat to my contacts which, after all, looked more "professional" than those purple glasses. Gradually, I stopped wearing the purple glasses at all, and when I needed a new pair of glasses in a new prescription, I got plain old brown, "go with everything" glasses.
My friend Mary is a very fortunate woman who married a wealthy man and hasn't had to work since the day he proposed. She feels guilty about her good fortune, and in her guilt feels she needs to "give back." And so she goes on missions. Medical missions . . . until it had been so long since she worked as a nurse she didn't feel safe going on medical missions, and then on various other missions. Taking food to famine victims in Africa, slinging sandbags for flood victims in central America. And building a church in Mexico.
Mary's husband couldn't go on the church building mission to Mexico, so she asked me to go along. I love Mary and since we moved away from the town where we met in different directions, I rarely got to see her. So when she asked me to go, I couldn't say no. I wasn't all that interested in building a church in Mexico, but I wanted to spend some time with Mary and if that's what it took, so be it. When I got the letter from the mission organizers, telling me about the primitive conditions in which we'd be staying, and advising us to bring glasses, not contacts (we wouldn't be able to clean them properly) and to bring a spare pair in case our primary pair got broken, I dug out those purple glasses again.
In Mexico, I wore those purple glasses every day rather than the plain old brown ones. They made me feel braver and bolder and more special. And the Mexican children who lived in the village where we were staying were fascinated by them. They kept clamoring to try them on. I was reluctant because, well, they were children. They were dirty and noisy and ragged and barefoot. But one little girl followed me everywhere, to practice her English, she said. And taught me some Spanish. Rosita was fascinated with those purple glasses. And she grew on me. I thought she was a nuisence, and that I'd be glad when she had to go to school because it made me nervous the way she followed me around adoringly. But the day came when she had to go to school, and I missed her.
The night before we left, the village folk hosted a feast in our honor to thank us for helping them to build their church. We were invited into their homes, and for the first time it struck me that those "primitive conditions" I was camping out in were the conditions in which our hosts lived, 365 days a year. Rosita and her friends weren't barefoot because they didn't like shoes. They were barefoot because they didn't HAVE shoes. Or only had one pair that they saved for church on Sunday. They lived without running water or reliable electricity not because they were on a mission to help others less fortunate than themselves. They WERE less fortunate than me.
Feeling magnanimous that night, when Rosita asked to try on my purple glasses, I let her. Her face was transformed with wonder as she set them on her nose and gingerly peered through the lenses. "Look at that," she exclaimed. "I didn't know the flowers had PETALS." And she ran back and forth looking not at her reflection, but at flowers and birds and the dingy dogs that lived in her village. "I can SEE," she said. "I can see."
When I flew home from Mexico, it was without the purple glasses. I left them with Rosita. I had forgotten how fortunate I was that I could afford to buy glasses to see with. I had forgotten how it felt to grow up without plumbing and with unreliable electricity in a dirty little village that I couldn't wait to escape. Rosita's fascination wasn't with the way the purple glasses made her look, or even how they made her feel; it was with how they helped her to see.
I never went back to that small town in Mexico, but I try never to forget how fortunate I am. That year I collected glasses from everyone I knew who had an old pair they weren't using -- because some people can't afford to buy glasses to help them to see. And every time I have my new prescription filled, I donate my old glasses. But there are plenty of people right here in the United States who need our help; we don't have to go to a third world country to help out. These days, I help out at the domestic violence center. Because a little girl who was fascinated with my purple glasses made me realize that those of us who have more need to give some of it back.Last edit by Joe V on Jan 24, '17 : Reason: formatting for easier reading - per rules
About Ruby Vee, BSN, RN
Ruby Vee has '40' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'ICU/CCU'. From 'Snowbird, migrating on the ICW'; Joined Jun '02; Posts: 12,615; Likes: 52,282.Oct 23, '11Ruby........you are quite the writer.
You paint such vivid pictures with words that you draw in the reader from the very first paragraph. Whenever I read one of your articles, I get a feeling like I do whenever I settle in with a good book, warm in my bed on a cold night with the hubby snoring next to me and a cat or two sleeping in my lap. The only thing I regret about reading your work is that it's over all too soon.
This is a wonderful story, made even more wonderful because you tell it like someone who has lived it......as indeed you have.
Keep 'em coming!Oct 23, '11Quote from vivalasviejaswow! thank you so much!ruby........you are quite the writer.
you paint such vivid pictures with words that you draw in the reader from the very first paragraph. whenever i read one of your articles, i get a feeling like i do whenever i settle in with a good book, warm in my bed on a cold night with the hubby snoring next to me and a cat or two sleeping in my lap. the only thing i regret about reading your work is that it's over all too soon.
this is a wonderful story, made even more wonderful because you tell it like someone who has lived it......as indeed you have.
keep 'em coming!