“I become a transparent eye-ball”




I think I know where the fountain of youth might be. Contrary to my vain efforts, it’s not in more ab exercises and hair dye or other questionably effective tricks. It’s no particular place or thing, but more like something you become—that, at least, is what I read from Ralph Waldo Emerson, hero of the Transcendentalists– and me, too.

You have to become a transparent eyeball. Strange, no? But come on, it’s a great metaphor, isn’t it? Emerson nails it when he wrote, in one of the most oft-quoted paragraphs in early American literature:

Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. From Nature, 1936

Sorry, o ye mockers of the transparent eyeball but I LOVE this. And have felt again and again in unexpected moments, usually on walks and in nature, exactly what he means.

Sure, there have been many mockers of the transparent eyeball. Check out this cartoon made by Emerson’s friend after Ralph Waldo first wrote Nature.


transparent-eyeball email

And yes, it is weird, it is an easy concept to laugh about. And yes, some might say that new agey spiritualists have taken up the transparent eyeball image, and much of Emerson, too, in fact, as their own. But this is not new agey, this is old agey. Eternal. This is that “perfect exhilaration” of forgetting yourself—it can happen in something so simple or commonplace as walking in Pease Park here in Austin—and it’s probably just as it was for Emerson over 150 years ago walking in the woods outside of Concord. The transparent eyeball is timeless.

And to be one makes us, for at least a little while, timeless, too. “In the woods, is perpetual youth,” he says. And he was a SMART guy.

Something to think about when I purchase my next bottle of L’Oreal Root Rescue. But maybe even a transparent eyeball wants to looks its best.