At 45 I started seeing double out of my right eye. Cataracts, my doctor explained. He walked me through my surgical options, then told me he’d operate when I was ready.
Over the next few years my right eye deteriorated from double images to quadruple images to just blurry shapes and colors. It wasn’t a crisis, though, because my left eye still had crisp, 20/20 vision.
When the cataracts seriously interfered with my depth perception, it was surgery time. My doctor cut open my right eye, removed my damaged lens and slipped in an artificial one. The next day the bandages came off, I opened my eye, and saw the world in 20/20 again. Gleefully I looked through my new right eye, then my old left eye, one at a time, marveling at what I’d gained. But something was different between the images: they were different colors. In my brand new right eye, light was brighter and colors cooler. In my trusty, old, left eye, light was dimmer and colors warmer. It was as though one eye saw the room lit by fluorescent bulbs, and the other eye saw the same room lit by incandescents.
I asked my doctor if I was imagining this. I wasn’t. He explained that as the lenses in our eyes age they become “tea stained.” I asked which color scheme was the right one. Both, he said. My new, right lens was seeing the world pretty close to the way I’d seen it as a child. The old, left lens was looking at the world the way a 49 year old would. Aging literally brings a more autumnal view of the world.
A few months later I was jogging at night along Valencia Street. Curious to test my post-surgery vision, I looked at the busy bars and restaurants through just one eye, then the other. To my new, right eye the street was filled with bright excitement, and I felt the night-life rush of my 20s. Switching to my left eye, the street changed to sepia-tones and I was back in my late 40s. I knew cataract surgery would help me navigate through space. I didn’t know it would also let me travel through time.
With a Perspective, I’m Evan Sagerman.
Evan Sagerman is an architect and author. He lives in San Francisco.