It must be nice to look at the world unconstrained by 48 years of experiences, conscious and sub-conscious biases, and with senses yet-to-be dulled by the slow march of neural degeneration. Take this iPhone photo above, for example, which I grabbed at the top of an unexpectedly rigorous Marin Headlands hike this past weekend. In that moment, I assumed without even acknowledging the assumption that my 11 year-old son Everett was looking at what I was looking at, and saw it the exact same way. But writing now, I have to admit there is just no way.
I’m sure he could see bluer blues and a more vivid outline of Sutro Tower. I struggle to decipher ingredient lists on food packaging. Manipulating the relevant variables: Distance between words and eyes, degree of squinting both eyes then one eye then the other eye, distance between words and nearby light source, color of light source, and so on. I harassed my wife as recently as Saturday night for breaking out her iPhone flashlight to examine a dimly-lit restaurant’s menu. The truth is, I’m not far off.
I’m also sure that, although he complained vociferously about the poor snack choices available, Everett can taste that gooey granola bar in a way that I can’t. Anything without tabasco, cayenne pepper flakes, wasabi, or Sriracha rarely makes it within my maw’s orbit. According to the medical literature, my taste buds began dying off and shrinking five years ago. So I will soon be headed to Ghostpepper Ville, I fear.
No doubt, too, Ev standing at that vista can hear soaring birds of prey, ocean breezes whipping through invasive scrub brush, overhead waves crashing off Ocean Beach in the distance, and probably even the annoyed accusations whispered by the young woman standing nearby concerned her boyfriend chose the wrong trail spur. My own slow decent to hard-hearing is like slowly drowning over the course of a few decades. Realizing only when it’s too late that you’re underwater, and everyone else around you is speaking but no words come out. Or maybe if you’re lucky, Charlie Brown’s teacher’s wah-wah-wah words are what you can still glean. For now, Ev will occasionally cup his ears in pain while crossing a neighborhood intersection, howling about “the squealing breaks on that car.” “What car?” I say. I can no longer pick up those frequencies, apparently.
But most importantly, Everett can still enjoy the freedom of playing around with words with abandon. Approaching them without judgment. Withholding his respect for them, even, unless and until they earn it. Not intimidated in the least by Hammurabi’s Code’s bona fides, let alone cowed by Noah Webster’s dictionaries.
Last night, Everett pronounced from the living room couch, “‘Extraordinary’ should mean very very normal, like super boring, not better than ordinary. I think people are using that word improperly.” I’d like to think he’s both right, and wrong. That way, I could say that we are both experiencing the world in our own extraordinary ways. Even if my “extraordinary” is the super boring one.
Thanks for reading.