Making Experience New: On Recapturing First Times

The first time something happens is almost always extraordinary. At least, that is how we remember many early events. History is written upon our innocent, blank canvas with bold, colorful strokes.

The young one unwraps the world of initial impressions with every sense he owns, but many of these encounters become familiar before the brain inks them into long-term memory.

Thus, in a sense, some “first times” have already become routine by the time we are a bit older. We can’t remember the fullness of their original impact unless they carried drama, good or bad.

These thoughts occur in response to a new “first time.” My astonishment is not uncommon among those who, like me, have just had cataract surgery.

The operation has freshened my capacity to see color, its richness, clarity, depth, and glory.

I feel as though I lived for years in Plato’s allegorical cave, a man who took shadows for reality. Turning toward the light I’ve missed, the rainbowed world carries enchantment.

Cataracts created the gradual clouding of vision — a kind of dimness and a blurring of the visual world.

Like most, my case progressed slowly, without a noticeable change at first, creeping along undercover. Only when the dulling of the sense of sight brought growing practical challenges did it necessitate surgery.

The next several weeks of recovery should offer additional positive news about my perception. Were you in front of me, I might paraphrase the Big Bad Wolf’s comment to Red Riding Hood: “Ah, how much better it is to see you now, my dear.”

Of course, this change demands lots of second looks at the world. Not even my wardrobe appears the same!

Every artwork, natural and human beauty, flower, and aspect of the sun or moon provides either a fresh experience or a second chance at an old one as if it were the first. The opportunity to recreate a series of “beginnings” bowls me over.

I must emphasize the word “create.” To a degree, each of us creates the view ahead, along with our personal expectation of safety, friendliness, or opportunity in our human encounters. What we glimpse and how we interpret it depends on us, at least in part.

I do not know how long my amazement will last, but once the surgeon finishes another of these procedures, I will surrender to every sight my hazel orbs permit. Indeed, I’ve begun.

Since we tend to get used to conditions, lasting impact is never guaranteed. Think of food. You might remember particular unrepeatable restaurant meals.

The delight in a new taste or marvelous  preparation is hard to recapture. We recall first loves with the same difficulty of finding another similar emotional and sensory wallop.

I am eager to fill the space between my eyelids with my children and grandkids — their skin tone, complexion, hue, and glowing smiles. Museums await me, as well. Mark Rothko’s work will be a priority destination.

As the late comedian Norm McDonald said, “The only thing an old man can tell a young man is that it goes fast, real fast, and if you’re not careful, it’s too late.”

His words remind you and me to recreate ourselves, erase a part of our canvas and renew our eager receptivity to the palette of natural and human brush strokes. To let the world impress itself on us as children do. To become, as Carlo Maria Giulini, the gifted conductor, described himself, “an enemy of routine.”

If life represents a search, taking in the fullness of the road and its surroundings becomes essential to the journey.

I am not too late to widen my scope. Indeed, the previous darkness of my eyes and the metaphorical evening of our present moment join to enlarge my gratitude and amazement.

One caution, though. The next time I meet you, I might make you self-conscious for a second, no matter your gender or age.

My eyes don’t intend this, nor do they wish to evaluate your appearance. Instead, to drink you in. Don’t worry. My soul-searching career is behind me.

Like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, I may suggest we share a glass of wine and this toast: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” The person I embrace will be another first time, no matter how long I’ve known you.

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The top image is A Sunset in North Dakota captured this June by the magnificent Laura Hedien, with her kind permission: Laura Hedien Official Website.

Next is A Woman in a Room by Pierre Bonnard from Wikiart.org/

This is followed by Hot Air Balloon and Moon, © Tomas Castelazo,  www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0/

The final artwork is Mark Rothko’s No. 3/No. 13, Magenta, Black, Green on Orange, also from Wikiart.org/

A clip from the end of Casablanca with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart completes the exhibition.

8 thoughts on “Making Experience New: On Recapturing First Times

  1. Funny! You can start over getting acquainted with all old things, family, and friends! An antidote to Covid sameness.

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  2. I can relate to the quote from the late comedian Norm McDonald. Aging is a sneaky process. We don’t realize we’ve enter the critical zone until “it’s too late” 🙂

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  3. Enjoy your new lease on life! I have “seeds” of cataracts in my eyes, but so far they are holding steady….I think. 🙄

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  4. Thanks, Nancy. Let’s hope it is a long-term! lease. Good luck with your “seeds.”

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  5. I often wondered about the excitement of seeing/doing something for the first time or even repeatedly. How would it be to live out west? To see the mountains every morning?! Would it become commonplace and not as thrilling as the earlier days?

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  6. Perhaps some retain the freshness of the first time they saw something. I suspect, however, not many do. I once interviewed a CSO musician and his wife, who had a condo with unobstructed views of the Chicago skyline and the lake. I commented on how overwhelming it was. They said they had to remind themselves of this, because it had become customary.

    The conductor Giulini broke routine by not conducting too much: he performed for a few weeks and then took time off, but did this also because he wished to spend time with his family, read, swim in the ocean, and study.

    Other great conductors step away from familiar music for a while, sometimes years. When they return to a piece (like Sir George Solti), they will obtain a fresh copy of the orchestral score and look it over without all the markings he’d put into his old copy. Serious musicians often change their interpretations over time. Thanks for your exquisite photography and your important question, Laura.

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