If I were a hunter-gatherer I’d be dead by now. My eyesight is of such quality that a sabre-tooth tiger, an angry rival from another tribe, a camouflaged cliff edge, or even my own attempts at tool-wielding could all have resulted in my demise.
This compromised vision—which would’ve killed me in antiquity—is perhaps one reason why I contemplate life without certain senses. I mean, I’ve already been told that my sight will likely get worse as I age. So is it that strange to speculate upon my response to sudden or gradual blindness? I don’t think so.
The shape of these speculations are usually jovial. I refactor blindness as a chance to learn Braille and other languages. I tell myself that I’ll still be able to do Brazilian jiu-jitsu. That I’ll still weight train. That I’ll still be able to read (via audiobooks), to write (via voice-to-text software), and to have deep and meaningful relationships with people.
Some of these speculations are less jovial and consist of my contemplation of the tragedies that accompany the loss of sight, the most poignant being that I will forget the faces of the people I love. I used to think that I wouldn’t; I’ve spent so long looking at them that they must be permanently etched on the inside of my skull. Not so.
Memories—either static, like images, or dynamic, like experiences—are akin to flowers. Without consistent nurturing—in the form of recall or reaffirmation—they die. Sure, they can survive for a little while, but not that long. This really became apparent whilst I was on holiday. I didn’t forget the face of the woman I love, but it definitely started to blur in the most minor of ways. It may be my own personal defects revealing themselves, but I realised that after a month, a year, a decade, my memory of that face would fade almost entirely. I don’t mean my sense of that face, I mean my ability to recall it in excruciating detail—its shape, contours, features, movement, colours, textures.
If I’m being frank, that terrifies me. Mainly because I don’t know what to do about it. So, Molly, when I’m just gazing at your face and you ask me what I’m doing, I’ll respond by saying, “I’m just looking.” But in reality I’m trying to remember your face for a few extra days in a quite possible future.