Staying Sensitive

There’s this story about my grandfather.

Back in the day you did a lot of odd work around the infrastructure of Australia. Power poles and telephone poles were still being put in. It’s funny that now we don’t need them that telephone poles are so comparatively new. Anyway, at the time, my grandfather was sitting, hanging by a strap, to do work on a juncture box – one of the old hard metal boxes full of fuses that were used for determining throughput, fixing fuses, that kind of thing.

Anyway, it seemed that something went wrong in the box, or maybe he messed up – and there was a huge, nasty spark, a belch of lightning that threw him back, off the pole, and kicked him meters away, burned all over. Medical care rushed to help him, kept his eyes covered, and bandaged him up.

Months of healing. Nervousness. Uncertainty. Learning to live in the darkness. Fears he’d lose his sight.

Then, when the time came, when the doctors were as sure that his eyes would be as okay as they could be, they unwound the wrappings from his head, slowly, one by one, letting his burn-healed skill adjust. Slowly, slowly, until finally, they were removed… and he could open his eyes, to see how much damage had been done to his eyes in that moment of lightning.

… and then, he looked around and realised his eyes were fine.

In the flash between the explosion and the impact, his eyes had slammed close, his eyelids had protected him. And this story, we were then told, was proof of how miraculously well-tund our bodies are. Praise Jesus, etcetera.

I heard this story, first, as it was told as something that happened to my grandfather. Then years later I heard someone else, who wasn’t related to me, saying it’d happened to their grandfather. Then some fishing around and it turned out to just be one of those stories, even if it described a phenomenon that could actually happen. It’s a bit like the Bricklayer’s Story.

The thing about this story, the thing that really does nag at me as I go about my day, as I clean my glasses because I know my eyes are getting worse, as I sniff milk to make sure it’s okay, as I run my finger along a surface to detect imperfections in a print, is that sensitivity is so obviously and stupidly important.

Why wouldn’t you want to be sensitive? Your entire body is made up of systems designed to preserve your sensitivity. You check for smells and tastes and touch. You blink to keep your eyes sensitive. You feel pain to keep you from damaging your sense of touch.

In the end, the only person who wants my eyes to be less sensitive is going to sell me glasses or steal from me where I can’t see.

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