Saturday, January 18, 2014

amazing grace

I can't remember exactly what I was doing.  Probably reading or writing.  I tend to do a lot of both.

Whatever it was, I glanced up to see the stone statuette of an Indian woman holding a fish on her lap.  She has squatted in my garden for as long as I have lived here.  Years before that, I suspect.

What surprised me is that I could see her as a three-dimensional object.  She had depth.

For almost all of you, that statement should be about as shocking as me saying, on a clear day, the sky is blue.  But, just as a few of you are blind to the color blue in the sky, I cannot not see in three dimensions. 

I have no depth perception.  Zero.  Or, at least, I had none.  And that is this story.

I was 22 before I realized most people see the world in 3-D.  They can actually see a ball coming at them.  Objects are either near or far.

Not for me.  The world may as well be painted on a scrim at the front of a stage.  Nothing closer.  Nothing further away.  Merely the illusion of perspective.

In 1971, I took the bus to McChord Air Force Base for my flight physical.  At the time, the Air Force was interesting only in commissioning pilots or navigators.  If I failed the test, I could be neither, and I would have been as welcome as Jane Fonda at a Medal of Honor convention.

The physical was going extremely well.  I had passed all of the pokes and probes that seem to thrill doctors.  My eyes were rated better than 20/20.  And then came the depth perception test.

I managed to fail every block.  To me, even though one of the four circles was supposed to look as it it was suspended above the others, all I saw were four happy "o"s happily lined up as if they were on parade.

The guy in charge of the examination pulled out the blocks, re-sorted them, looked at them himself, and asked me to take the test again.  Not one was suspended as far as I could see.

We tangoed three or four more times.  Same result.  He told me that had never happened before. 

His conclusion?  Something must be wrong with the machine -- and passed me.  I learned a lot about government in my brief encounter.

But I now knew why I had trouble with eye-hand coordination.  My eyes were not sending proper information to my hands.

I later learned that loss of depth perception can happen if a child suffers a head injury at a young age.  Usually, at age three or before.

Despite what we were told in fifth grade science, we do not have depth perception because our eyes are stereoscopic.  That is merely data transferred to the brain.  Up there amongst all of that squishy yellow stuff, our brain makes sense of the information and translates it into a very complex three-dimensional image.  In this case, it is all in our heads.

In my case, the head trauma was at 4.  I told you this tale already in tres desperados, but I am in a mood to repeat myself.
The year was 1953.  My parents owned a tire shop in Myrtle Point, and my mother was driving Dad's pickup, on an errand to retrieve an air compressor, along a narrow windy road bordering the Coquille River.  My brother, then two, was on the floor playing with a flashlight.  I was sitting on the seat.

As we were rounding a spot in the road known as Dead Man's Curve (western place names actually mean something), my brother dropped the flashlight on the driver's side of the floor and put his innocent, little hand on the accelerator.

The truck operated exactly as engineered and hurtled off the road, over a cliff, and lodged in a copse of trees.  That is, the truck lodged, along with my mother in the cab.  But the air compressor, tires, and two young boys turned into an Isaac Newton experiment.

My brother ended up on some boulders along the side of the river with a broken right leg.  I ended up in the river with a fractured skull.  The flow of the river was about to pull me away from a rock just as our mechanic, who was following us in his vehicle, grabbed me.

Earlier this week, while contemplating my new-found depth perception (that tends to come and go for no particular reason), I thought about the man who saved my life.  I had even forgotten his name.

My mother reminded me his name was Dale.  But neither of us could recall a last name.

Something, huh?  A man puts his life in danger to save mine, and I do not know anything about him other than his first name and his job.  And absolutely nothing about what happened to him after his noble deed.

I suspect he is no longer alive.  But it does not change the fact that I am grateful for his bravery.  Because he chose to be heroic, I have lived a blessed life.

At the end of Saving Private Ryan, while Captain Miller is dying, he tells Private Ryan, because of the number of people who have died to save his life: "
James ... earn this.  Earn it."

I doubt that it is ever posible for any of us to earn what others have sacrificed or done on our behalf.  Parents.  Teachers.  Pastors.  Friends.  Rescuers whose names we cannot now recall.

The best we can do is to accept the grace we are given.  And to not cheapen what has been done out of love.

Wherever you are, Dale, I thank you.

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