As a little boy, I had a lot of issues with naming certain colors. I would call some greens “brown” or I would call some reds “orange” or even “pink”. My parents and my preschool teachers could never figure out why I was having so much trouble with things that the other children understood instantly. In middle school, I was better able to voice my struggles, and my parents finally came to the conclusion that I was color blind.
Color blindness or Color Perception Deficiency is genetic, but only men can acquire it, and it skips a generation. This means my grandfather gave me my color deficiency. He passed it down through my mother (females are the carriers) to me. Because of this, I have been colorblind since birth. The numbers estimate that out of the normal one million shades of different colors the human eye can pick up, my eyes can only pick up twenty-five thousand of those shades. Twenty-five thousand!
To help you really get an idea of what I see, think of some creamy peanut butter. Now think of the color of that peanut butter. Now, what if I told you, that the peanut butter was green? You probably would not believe me. But to me, the peanut butter is green, not brown. And the beautiful Washington state sunset; the fiery sky, the bright yellows and the deep reds. The pink sky fading out towards the end, making the once blue sky rich with saturation. But picture the pink as a storm- cloud gray, and the oranges and reds blending into one smudge of a color somewhere in between. Now it is not even the same sunset as the one you pictured originally. One completely identical sunset, viewed two different ways; one a lot more desirable than the other. But because I have seen like this my entire nineteen years of life on this beautiful earth, everything looks normal to me. Nothing appears to be weird or different. It’s just how it is.
Although I had come to terms with the world I perceived, I had always wished for a technology to arise similar to eye glasses for near- and far-sighted individuals, but for people with color deficiency. Then one day, early September in 2015, I was just sitting on my couch scrolling through Facebook, and stumbled across a video of a young man trying on glasses to correct his color deficiency. His reaction was so emotionally touching and close to my heart that it ended up fueling a week-long internet scavenger hunt through pages and pages about the validity of those glasses. After reading enough about them that I could practically create them myself, I told my parents about them. They thought it was miraculous that some day their little boy, who colored the American flag with purple, could finally see what everyone else could see.
Later that year with Christmas fast approaching—every day of every week inching closer and closer to the holiday cheer- the opportunity to visit my family for the first time since moving out was growing nearer. Even though I’m almost 20 years old, my parents still ask me for my Christmas list, though my list has gotten shorter and has changed from Lego bricks and Nerf guns, to household appliances and a lifetime of days off of work. But this year at the top of my list lied the EnChroma Colorblind Glasses. As Christmas grew nearer, and the holiday spirit awakened in full force, I got more and more hopeful that one of those shiny wrapped boxes under the lit up, sparkling Christmas tree contained the doorway to a whole other world.
Next thing I knew, I was waking up Christmas Eve to the smell of sizzling bacon hovering around the house and the cheers of the children across the street using makeshift sleds to slide to the bottom of the steep snow-covered hill. The lights from the Christmas tree glistening off the wrapping paper of the boxes full of surprises. I roll out of bed, feeling the rush of Christmas joy. Stepping out into the hallway, I’m nearly tackled by my niece and nephew chasing each other to the dining room. As I sit down at the table to eat, with plates set out covered in delicious scrambled eggs, home-made pancakes, and thick cut peppered bacon, my breakfast plate morphs into my dinner plate as we ate off and on all day, the bacon becoming smoked honey ham, the eggs becoming candied yams, and the pancakes morphing into mashed sweet potatoes.
Before I realize it, it’s midnight—time to open presents. The nervous excitement slowly kicks in as my family gathers around the tree. My mom hands out each gift, calling the names written on the wrapping. I crossed my fingers; silently wishing that one of these gifts I am handed is the key to another reality. My family and I unwrap these boxes full of surprise; the children tear open the shiny paper and throwing it over their shoulders in uncontrollable excitement. Their eyes widen as they reveal their new toys that they’ve wished and hoped to receive for weeks and weeks. The adults carefully open boxes full of new kitchenware and tools. I opened my gifts of new clothes and gift cards, hoping the next box I opened would be the glasses.
Then I was on to my last gift. With a pile of some new jeans, a hat, and some socks from my grandma, my everlasting optimism was slowly growing thin. With my fingers crossed, I tore open the wrapping on my last gift, my disappointment disappeared as I read the EnChroma brand on the box. There they are, in my hands. I’m not sure if I believed it or not. I succumbed to the pure joy and broke down in tears. I looked up and saw my mom recording me with her cell phone; she had this planned all along. I am hesitant to put them on right away. I needed to wait. I had seen videos of people trying these on for the first time and it was life changing. I needed to wait until a sunny afternoon, and I needed to be there with the right people. It had to be a perfect moment. So I waited. I waited eight days after Christmas. And oh how perfect the moment was.
It was January 2, 2016 at the Sky Nursery gardens, the crisp winter air softened by the warm glow of the sun. Inside the garden laden with flowers and plants, I stepped inside and instantly felt the change in humidity, the indoor air damp and warm. The sun was gleaming through the glass ceiling, and after taking a glance around and giving my family time to take out their cameras, I open up the case of the glasses.
The leather case was cold under my fingertips as I took out the glasses, putting the case back in my pocket. I turned to face my family, cameras aimed at like I was a celebrity. I looked around at all the flowers, placing the cold metal over the top of my ears, and I was struck by the vividness of the world around me, left to hang my jaw in absolute amazement. This, this was what everyone else could see? I had been missing out on a completely different world, one where the leaves were different shades of green, and where the deep red flowers didn’t look brown. I could decipher purples from blues. The world was new, different, and exciting.
Our perception of the world is not the same. Look around you. Look at all the colors everywhere. The trees, the clothes people are wearing, maybe some posters on the wall. Focus on the colors. Maybe there is some yellow or red, and some greens and browns. Imagine turning down the saturation of the world you see around you. Turn it down to where the colors are softer, and the blacks are a little grayer. That’s what I see without these glasses. But now, the sidewalk contrasts the bright green grass lying next to it, and the maroon flowers are so deep red compared to the dark green leaves lying beneath them. The yellow sunflower petals, yellow as a highlighter against the dark black color of the center.
Throughout the whole experience, I was in tears, pure shock. My family asked me questions about the colors I could see, their curiosity intrigued me. My family could not believe how amazed I was by such a simple concept.
But is it really that simple? Special cones inside the iris of our eyes picks up on light waves of different lengths, sending our brain signals that tells it what color we are perceiving objects to be. During development, the eye, like mine, may not end up getting all the cones the average eye has. Therefore, it creates a different perception of colors in my reality. So no, it is not really that simple. The fact that most people receive the full amount of cones is miraculous. It is truly a blessing to perceive the world how you do. My life, I have gone without seeing 975 thousand shades of colors that exist in this world. That is something that nobody ever thinks about, something that most people don’t think twice about or pay attention to; the fact that every color is a blessing.
When I wear these glasses, I feel like a kindergartener, constantly asking my girlfriend what the names of certain colors are and drooling over simple things like the yellow of a crosswalk sign. At twenty years of age, I am still learning the names of certain colors, while most people live every day not ever questioning what they see. From the blue recycle bins to the green of the traffic lights, the world is drastically different than how I have learned it was. Every day of my life I have lived in this bleak reality, never oohing or aahing over the colors every person ever said was so beautiful, because to me the world has not looked that beautiful ever before. Seeing the world how everyone else sees it and actually being amazed by it has brought to life the constant thoughts of thankfulness, thinking about other things that I may actually have, like my hearing or my limbs or even my consciousness have made me really appreciate those things that I take for granted.
Seeing colors for the first time not only opened the doorway to a whole alternate reality, but changed the way I think of things. I can now see over thirty times as many shades I could previously see when I am wearing these glasses, colors that you can see without glasses. Something not thought twice about, but I will forever be thankful for. So when you wake up every morning, I want you to stop and think for a second. I want you to think about one thing you are really grateful for, something that some people may be living without. You would be amazed at how many different things you take for granted, whether purposefully or on accident. Do not feel bad for taking these things for granted, just be more grateful for them. That is the biggest lesson I have learned from this crazy, life-changing event.
Be more appreciative.