Seeing the Big Picture

This essay is excerpted from You Don’t Look Your Age . . . and Other Fairy Tales, a new book by Sheila Nevins ’60 that reflects on frenemies, dieting, and aging

By Sheila Nevins ’60

Illustration by Hannah Drossman

One day, some thirty years ago, I suddenly could not see a telephone number in a Manhattan phonebook. From that day forth, I was not ready for my close-up. No matter how many dime-store pairs of glasses I’ve bought lo these many years, hardly a day goes by when I can find any of these reading glasses anywhere. I’ve done everything—hung them around my neck, placed them in various places at home and in the office. I’ve even put them in raincoats and bathrobe pockets. And, yet, whenever I need a pair, they’re nowhere to be found. I have hundreds of them. So, I pay the wrong total on the Chinese takeout, miss a key word in an article, or often order the wrong salad from an eyeglass-less read of a dinner menu.

Oh, cruel fate! Yet, this continual search for definition led me to ponder if possibly this seismographic vision change coincided with the cataclysms of menopause, empty nests, and the necessity of sensible shoes. Was this blurring a concealed inspirational message from Above? A silent nudge for me to start to observe differently, to see the world from a different frame of being—a reminder of the forest for the trees? For all my lived life, so far, I had intended to focus on, obsess on, little things. They meant a lot. They often kept me off-track, like a train halting for a small pebble. I was impeded by an odd offhanded remark, a slightly different color hair-dye job, an inconsistency in a movie’s continuity. Detail, details, detailing.

And so I thought to take wisdom from this clear lack of clarity and accept it and try to take it in stride. “See the big picture,” I said. Create a mantra that says, “I will not be forced off-track or piqued by the little things—these tiny bugs that seem so big, that I allow to screw up the mechanism of my daily enjoyment of life.”

On an ugly hair day, with a creased face returning home from the L.A. red-eye and smelling of jet fuel, my husband (also vision deprived) opened the apartment door and said, unrehearsed, how beautiful I was—once and now. Honest—he said that.

Suddenly, I understood the compensatory power of a diminishing close-up. The glory of the loss of acuity that I thought I had missed. I ohmmed to myself an appreciation for the philosophical and psychological advantages of seeing life from a distance. The forest. The whole picture.

So on a cloudless night, I took off my +1.75 crutches to observe the clarity of what was far away. The moon, the stars, and the sky—all so beautiful and clear. My Universe. The Universe. •