Seeing the world through a pair of shades

They say you really cannot understand how someone else feels until you walk a mile with their sunglasses on. You may think you’re able to relate to them, but to really get inside their head you to have to wear what they wear on the outside of their head.

This became more than just another cliche last week when I did something that would haunt me for the entire day – I forgot my sunglasses and had to cope with the “real world” for several hours. Since most of you probably have not been outside the house without your sunglasses in years, this may come as a bit of a shock, so I give you fair warning here and now – the real, unshaded, unfiltered world – is much too bright.

It’s not just the blinding sun, either. Even on non-stop overcast days (which, in Northern Virginia, also means “spring”), the glare factor easily equals the heat and humidity when it comes to naming things “that continue to annoy us, other than reality TV shows.” Which is why sunglasses have become one of the most important survival tools of the 21st century, perhaps even edging out such life-affirming essentials as remote-key car door unlockers and, of course, the ubiquitous, increasingly irritating cell phone.

Sunglasses, made popular by famed Hollywood recluse Greta Garbo and perpetuated by singer Eddie Byrnes (whose stable of classics include the always-timely “Kookie, Kookie, Lend me Your Comb”), enjoyed a phenomenal success story that few could have predicted – especially since they made tens of millions of otherwise normal people purchase something they did not really need: eyeglasses. Not only that, but the idea of mysteriously hiding your eyes behind dark lenses also had come to be considered cool (which, admittedly, is of greater importance).

It’s hardly any accident that we all see the world differently, literally and figuratively, depending on what shades we choose to wear. You’ve heard the expression “seeing the world through rose-colored glasses”? There are such things, of course, and seeing the world through them makes everything seem, well, rosy. A woman I work with wears them. She thinks all is right with the world. She believes I-95 near Springfield is one of the “most beautiful spots on Earth. Simply gorgeous!” And she’s always talking about all those “gorgeous pink sunsets.” No one has the heart to tell her the truth, poor dear.

Another guy I know wears the blue-tint variety. They work especially well on hot days because everything looks like it’s at the North Pole and cold as ice. And the skies are always blue, even when they’re gray. The Potomac River looks blue, too. (When was the last time that happened?) But people also look blue, which must be a minor distraction, although everyone is the same color for what that’s worth. Of course, most of us probably wear the green-tinted ones, which give us a slightly different perspective on such natural artifacts as the New Jersey Turnpike and man’s grandest monument to industrial cement – Crystal City, Virginia.

And we do have an assortment of browns from which to choose, for those who like to live life large. Even various shades of red give some folks the altered world they choose to live in. (If you actually see anyone wearing red-tinted sunglasses, do not approach them, but call medical assistance at once.)

Strangely, some really practical reasons exist to wear sunglasses, even beyond the cool part. Polarized lenses filter out harmful ultraviolet light, we’re told, and eliminating glare reduces the chances of macular degeneration and other scary-sounding things. And for those among us who suffer from occasional bloodshot eyes (and we know who we are), shades hide us from the scrutiny of others.

There are perhaps as many different types of sunglasses as there are people. (No wait. That can’t be right. Then we’d have nearly 300 million types of glasses!) Oh, you know what I mean. Like everything else we wear, our shades are what make us unique and send a message to the rest of the world, as if to say, “Hey, world, except for the other half-million people who bought these same identical sunglasses, I stand out from the crowd. I am different, but in a good way, assuming, again, that no one else has these same sunglasses, which is possible, but unlikely, given the law of averages.”

Living life behind shaded lenses is sort of like the ostrich with his head buried in the sand, but perhaps these days, especially, any type of pleasant filtering is welcomed. Rose-colored is maybe just a bit too far off the reality track. But a subtle green, polarized, with a hint of wrap-around and a dash of test-pilot design, go a long way towards creating the allusion of importance and of being unique. I suppose that seeing is believing.

John Merli has been a Prince William County resident since 1984, and a Potomac News columnist since 1985. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years. E-mail him at: [email protected].