Our eyes lock. It’s more than a passing glance.
There is no escaping the judgment behind the eyes – it’s the reason we avoid the eyes of beggars; their gaze pierces our being, sometimes uncomfortably destabilizing our moral consciousness. And here I stand looking at you, wondering what you are seeing. My leather shoes, slacks and button down shirt, what do they mean to you? They must resemble your own fashion – that which I was trying to emulate – but I must wear them differently. Or maybe you notice my grown beard and uncommon features, certainly indicators of my foreign origin if my clothes managed to fool you? When you see me, do you see a paunchy and rich tourist as the street vendors are keen to believe I am? Or do you wonder what sort of purpose has brought me here, to this remote part of your humble island…
Have I felt your joys or known the depths of your sorrows? Behind your eyes I imagine many memories are stored that would be difficult for me to understand. Yet as I walk past you and our eyes separate – it was only a split moment – I wonder how similar our lives are despite their differences. Think what you will but in a blink I am gone from your sight; at the least a young man in a tuk-tuk passing through town. The fumes of the tuk-tuk dissipate between us and I see you fading; a man sitting on a tire, momentarily distracted from a conversation.
The rice cook behind the town’s local food joint
Like so many others your face will soon be forgotten. I will have no recollection of you or your town… the only souvenir of our encounter will be the feelings you evoked from me, feelings which only the unfiltered gaze can incite. With this gift of yours I will remember you, though I must apologize for you will remain faceless. (Though isn’t the greatest gift that which is given with no expectations of returns, including praise or even a memory?)
If our eyes did not meet, it would have been hard for me to feel (or know, though it is not a knowledge of the mind)that you have a world of your own, with challenges, aspirations, disappointments and celebrations. Too often people pass me by, and it is as if they cease existing as quickly as they began to exist.
Through sight a web is illuminated that connects everyone, extending from you, the city watch-dealer to the farmer who grew your rice 5km away, to the young Muslim woman who sewed his favorite Sarong, to her vocational training instructor working in Jaffna… These relationships come to life and envelop me in their folds; the whole process demanding only some educated guesswork and a little creativity.
The world suddenly becomes a much larger place in which I am just another being struggling to make life meaningful. The connections between us exist whether we feel them or not, and perhaps by making an effort to feel them we can share each other’s burden, utilize our strengths to make up for our weaknesses. You remind me that blood is blood, and despite our tendencies to create divisions, our efforts to unite beyond them will cultivate a peace with roots so deep it will withstand the incendiary temptations of conflict.
Street vendors in Jaffna