Jottings: A colorful new world
"That's PURPLE? I've never seen purple before!" The man stared, amazed, at the birthday balloon, his hand over his mouth in disbelief. His world had suddenly burst into colors that he had never seen before and he had only heard existed. Tears rolled down his cheeks.
He had been colorblind his entire life, so his normal world was mostly shades of gray and brown. As a birthday gift, however, his family and friends had secretly purchased a pair of EnChroma glasses for him. These very expensive glasses were custom-made to his prescription and to correct his form of color-blindness. The financial donors were either there with him that day or watching through the camera phones held up to record his reaction to seeing, for the first time in his life, how the rest of us see the world. I too watched this recording made and later sent to EnChroma to share with thousands of us on YouTube. Sometimes at the end of a long day it is my treat to watch these, since one can't help but smile as children, men and women of all ages put on these "sunglasses" gift and suddenly have their life change forever. It is a new world for them, like Dorothy entering Oz in the old movie, going from black and white to color, along with shouts of, often, "is this really what it looks like?!"
While dogs only have eye cones to see a mix of yellow and blue, we humans are trichroma; everything normally-sighted people see are combinations of our red, green and blue eye cones, according to scientist Ed Yong. That includes the color purple. For those people missing one of the three cones, this color often doesn't exist for them.
Other creatures see different colors, however. Bees don't see red, but they, along with ants, dogs, cats and reindeer can see forms of ultraviolet light, which we cannot. The tetrachroma, the lucky ones, have our three eye cone color types plus forms of UV, which means hummingbirds see millions of colors, more than 1/3 more than we poor humans can. People with color-blindness see even less, however, so enter the EnChroma glasses.
Before being given the glasses, some recipients are taken to a garden, flower shop or tropical fish store full of color, but most are at home. Many have never heard of EnChroma so wonder why others are so excited about a gift of a pair of glasses. Family and friends hold their breath as the glasses are slid into place, as they don't work for some. Then comes the reaction which I've seen so many times but never tire of: a gasp, a hand over mouth in amazement, tears, then a look around at the sky, the flowers, even their car. "Everything is so vivid!" they say, or "is this really what you get to see every day?" Some want to see a sunrise or sunset for the first time as we do, and stand for long minutes, staring in disbelief. Some receive them at Christmas and marvel at the tree light colors. Others want to see the color of their children's eyes for the first time, or are astonished at the different shades and colors of green in a normal backyard, which most of us seldom notice.
But my favorite comment is that of an old man walking slowly around his garden for the first time with his EnChroma glasses, staring, then turning to his family around him and saying with a huge sweet smile: "At last, I can see my roses."
Peggy Keonjian is a member of the Jottings Group of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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