On a wet day in March of 1971, I stood in the sheriff’s office in Williamson County, Tennessee, peering across the room towards an eye chart. I say “towards” because I couldn’t see the chart; I just knew the general direction. Sheriff Huff was testing me for my driver’s license, and this was part one: he asked me to remove my glasses, and then told me to read the letters on the chart. After I allowed as how I could not exactly find the chart, he laughed with a big hooting laugh and said, “Wa’al, honey, Ah don’t have t’ worry about you drivin’ without your specs. You caint find the car without ‘em!” And boy, howdy, was that the truth.
It’s still true, decades later. So every six months I stop by the optometrist’s just for a “tune-up” to get my frames adjusted, and every two years I’m in his chair, peering through the phoropter (that’s that thing in the picture above ) so that Dr. Rivera can see if my eyesight has changed. It’s a ritual:
Which is better? <click> A? <click> Or B?
Whirr. <click> A? <click> Or B?
Whirr. <click> A? <click> Or B?… and so on.
It takes time to get it right, time and experimentation. And because he is extra careful, Dr. Rivera always checks the prescription with my eyes dilated, so the little muscles in my eyes can’t fake either of us out. That part of it is unpleasant, but it’s the only way to be sure it is the proper prescription.
Cheshbon Hanefesh – Accounting for the Soul – can be a little like my trips to the eye doctor. It takes time and effort to get past my own self-deceptions, to root out the ways in which I may be deceiving myself:
“I’m just fine”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“No one will know.”
All of those lines are like the little muscles in my eyes, struggling to hold things together after the lens isn’t working for me anymore.
During the month of Elul, I have to sit down and take time. I have to listen carefully to myself, listen not only to the voice of my conscience but to my kishkes [Yiddish for guts.] There are no magic drops to help me, but I want to see clearly. Sometimes I have to ask for help. Sometimes it just takes time and humility. But when I’m done, I will be able to do the things I need to do to make my corner of the world better.
So, nu? Is it time for a little adjustment? Don’t put it off. Once you’ve done it, then we can all sing with Johnny Nash: