Before I even engage with this text, I have to consider the title: “In the Eyes of Another.” I wonder: is this about seeing myself through the eyes of someone else or is this about seeing the world through the eyes of another person? Either way asks me to think about a shift in perspective. I like the ambiguity I sense—the uncertainty of “vision,” what can be seen is about where one is looking fromalways. And being asked to look again at the world from a different point of view is inherently to rethink one’s own position.
I wonder what I will see next. But no matter what I see or read, I am immediately reminded of a cover of National Geographic from 1985 of an Afghan girl with startling eyes.
I was living in Idaho at that time—very isolated from the world—and got this magazine in the mail. It may have been the most haunting portrait I’d ever seen. I remember thinking: what’s going on in the world? I didn’t really know. But I wanted to know then, for the eyes of this girl begged me to know more, to break out of my isolation. I began to fear my disconnection with the world rather than fear what a connection might mean. My perspective shifted, and it was slightly painful to recognize my own lack of engagement and what that meant. But text/visual images/art does that to people—or it should.
I was not the only one stunned by this photo; it elicited a remarkable response—in fact, in 2002, seventeen years after that issue was published, National Geographic and the photographer, Steve McCurry, returned to the region to search for her. They found her, Sharbat Gula:http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/index-text.
I got that magazine in the mail, too, in 2002. It was as if the shift in my perspective from all those years before changed again, one more slight shift to another angle—not as painful, but just as real. Her brother says, “Sharbat has never known a happy day.” She cannot read, but she can write her name. How can we deal with that, how can I deal with that, when I sit in my office surrounded by books, a laptop, a big screen so I can see multiple documents at once, with a huge television over to one side, and my smart phone sitting by my wireless keyboard, should I need to access the world in yet one more way? It’s shifting my perspective again, right now, that’s how I’m dealing with it. I’m seeing who I am and what I have… differently.
What will the portraits of “In the Eyes of Another” reveal to me as I read, listen, see, experience this text? How will these faces, these eyes, change the way I think? I will be open to whatever these eyes will teach me. Open is good.
I’ve just meeting Tsakhia from Mongolia, Amina from Somalia, and Ryan from Chicago.
Words that leap from my head to fingertips to text include: home, information, news, love, fear, freedom, health, food, outside, inside, broken, restrictions, cold, heat, life, death, moderation, extremes, poverty, wealth, education, lack.
I want to see the striking connections between these three people, the good things that connect them, because I want to push aside anxiety I feel about the reality of lives like Amina’s and Tsakhia’s. I see their need to connect with loved ones, just like my need for that, and Ryan’s need for that. I want to see the ways they all function within their homes—spending time with family, worrying over family.
But as I find similarities, I also see how they are able to love and what “home” means varies greatly and reveals a stark disparity between them all, despite the love that underlies each of their lives
I also see information as a “luxury item”—revealed as part of these stories. Such a concept isn’t new. Those who could read were rare in centuries past, so text had limited appeal and was restricted—by law or by custom or finances. Information is different now (text, too)—seemingly free (everyone who wants to can access this text freely and without cost). But if you can’t get to it, then is its freedom meaningless? Information (or text) is still limited to those who can access it. Ryan has it; Amina and Tsakhia don’t.
Unlike Amina, Tsakhia can interact with passersby to learn of news. She cannot leave her home. But Ryan and his wife regularly go out, with relatively little fear, to “splurge on the weekends.” He can stay in touch with the world via his smart phone wherever he goes. He’s a poster boy for digital, electronic connection—but what does that mean exactly—is that better than the alternative?
I’m very aware of my own relative wealth. I see my own privilege through another’s eyes. It’s not totally comfortable. And I’m left with the desire to read again—to share with others, to open this text to my students, to ask them to read and think and share their responses. I want my friends to read this with me and to have a conversation over coffee.
My questions include: Is home an ultimate freedom or a place of isolation? Is love the only thing that matters? Or do “things” matter if they can help us attain safety, news, freedom? What about perspective, looking through the eyes of another, “in” they eyes of another? How important is it to look beyond our own vision of the world?
The title/content of this text suggests to me that I must see beyond where I am from. Perhaps this text is all about a collaborative vision of our world—how we are connected, how we are separated—how to enhance the former and diminish the latter. That’s what I ultimately want to see because of this text, so that’s what I’m going to see. And that’s another perspective shift.