Today in class, I looked into Annie’s two brown eyes for exactly 6 minutes. I swallowed hard twice, twirled my fingers about 12 times, almost laughed once. But otherwise, I looked back and forth into her eyes for exactly 360 seconds.
She blinked every 4–5 seconds, her knees bounced about 20–30 times, for about 2 minutes she looked like she was in pain — close to crying — for another 1.5 to 2 minutes she looked like she had emerging tears of joy, that she was finally being seen. For the whole 6 minutes, her pain and joy seemed only eyelashes apart.
I thought (and felt) dozens of things, but one prevailing thought was about how beautiful this moment was. And another — less prevailing but perhaps more profound — was what a shame it is that I’ve never looked into a single person’s eyes for 6 minutes. Or even 3, or even 1, or maybe even 0.5. About how many people I love deeply, unconditionally, eternally, but have never tried to understand them in this way; Or, perhaps even more importantly, have never allowed them to see me in this way.
For the past 3 days, my Twitter feed has been filled with eulogies of Asma Jehangir, a woman who was a hero, a role model, a freedom fighter, and so much more. A woman in a world that desperately needs role models. And a woman that I feel distraught to admit that I had never heard of — or certainly had never known her story — despite living in Pakistan since 2010.
Yes, I should be more informed. But why are so many of us not tweeting (more) about Asma before her death? Why are we not telling her stories? Why are we not writing articles about her achievements, her strengths, her humor, her resilience, her challenges.
Are we living life fully? Or is life just elapsing? Can we be found in the moments, or do we only reside in the days, the weeks, the years?
In his book “The Art of Travel,” Alain de Botton writes about the beauty we find when we travel, the new eyes we adopt, the curiosity we cultivate, the space we create to be awed and amazed. And our failure to perceive a very similar beauty in our own locales, our own backyards:
The reason we are not looking for this beauty is that we have never done so before. We have fallen into the habit of considering our homes familiar, ordinary, maybe even boring — and our universe has dully fallen into line with our expectations.
What would happen if we looked at our own locales (and lives) with fresh eyes and a traveler’s mindset? What would happen if we celebrated our role models before they die? If we looked into their eyes to understand their work, their vision, their passion.
What would happen if we paused to look our mothers in the eye for 6 minutes? To see her pain, her beauty, her history, her future. What would happen if we stopped sidestepping intimacy with words, with a joke, with a question that reciprocates the attention (and the vulnerability)?