FACE TO FACE WITH POVERTY: "A STRANGER'S EYES" (GA: BY MANPREET MUDHAR)
Introduction By J Rainsnow
I was first pointed in the direction of this article by "Carol", a conscientious mother and citizen of the planet, who deserves my thanks. (See her own inspirational and compassionate web site at http://home.earthlink.net/~expressin77/index.html .) The article was posted on the Young People's Press web site - http://www.ypp.net - which is an organization dedicated to providing the world's youth with a vehicle for expressing its views on many significant issues. As they say: "... articles by real youth, about stuff that matters." (Of course, thanks is due to the YPP for giving their permission to reprint the article here.)
The article - "A Stranger's Eyes" - was written by Manpreet Mudhar, a Grade 12 student in Mississauga, Ontario, who was a finalist in the "Turning Points" essay contest for secondary school students.
The article struck me for several reasons. First, it was well-written, and stood out in all possible senses, but especially in the most important sense of all, which was in its ability to use words to evoke haunting, lasting images, and to deeply move the heart. It also engendered the admiration which accomplishments of the young always do, for who can fail to be mesmerized by precocious talent, and by the promise that it offers even beyond its present achievement? Then, finally, there is something precious about the perception and sensibility of youth, itself. We, the adults of the world, seem to have found innumerable ways of turning off our sensitivity, of hardening our hearts and justifying the unthinkable, of driving the compassion and love we are all born with into the inaccessible depths of our soul, which is what enables us to go on perpetuating an incomprehensible way of life here, on the earth. Although our hardness to suffering (or ingenuity in finding ways not to notice it) - and our acclimatization to injustice - may, to some extent, aid in our "survival", these very survival mechanisms perpetuate the danger to our souls, and even lives, by dulling us to the realities from which others' desperation and resentment may arise, leading to conflict and war; and from which the ruin of our own hearts may stem ("what profit it a man to gain the world and lose his soul?") In this context, the "fresh", still "unspoiled" look of youth's eyes upon the conditions of our world, is of immeasurable value to us: the adults, and "guardians" of that world. Can the words that come from their youthful, still-feeling hearts, not yet trained to deny the obvious, not yet educated and conditioned to turn off the most important part of themselves, in order to get through life with a little less pain and doubt, somehow break through to us, the adults of the world, to "remind us of who we used to be", to free our quarantined humanity, and awaken us from our long and deadly sleep? Can the beauty we came into the world with be restored? Can we find something still alive and warm underneath the coldness of our years, underneath our elaborate defense mechanisms, our layers of denial, our excuses, pretexts, justifications, and, finally, acceptance of a world filled with crimes that pass as "normal"? Is it possible, perhaps, as in The Emperor's New Clothes, that brilliant fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, that the voice of a child can wake us up from our folly, and restore our vision to see things as they truly are?
Manpreet's article has to do with a face-to-face meeting with poverty, which helped to change her perception of what poor and rich, fortunate and unfortunate, really mean. Our civilization, so tied in to its own shallow priorities and material drives, could be muchly enriched by incorporating the insight - by experiencing the perception-shift - which 12th-grader Manpreet Mudhar describes in her writing. For, from the initial discomfort brought about by our resurrected sensitivity, might arise the seeds of a new world, the one we all long to live in. A world still very far away, to be sure, yet one destined to take shape, the moment our hearts commit themselves to it.
And now, here is the article. Thanks so much, Manpreet! You have done a lot more than you know!
A STRANGER'S EYES (By Manpreet Mudhar)
I live in a small, run-down townhouse. I donít have money to buy lunch at school everyday and I have only six dollars in my bank account.
Yet I am wealthy.
Iím not rich in the eyes of my peers who are always talking about the latest things they have bought. I am rich compared to the stranger who changed my life.
The chance meeting happened two years ago when I was in India to meet most of my family for the first time.
One day I went shopping with my aunt at a local market in New Delhi. Hundreds of people pushed past one another on narrow streets. The smell of exotic foods, the loud bargaining going on between customers and merchants, and the intense Indian heat cascaded over my senses.
I was lost in everything going on around me until my aunt pulled me over to a lady selling quilts. She had spotted a quilt she thought my sister would like. As she bargained the price down I saw a young girl staring at me.
Her hair was chopped off and full of dirt. She wore a tattered dress, which at one point must have been a brilliant red. She had no shoes and the sun seemed to have drained the youth from her skin.
But it was her eyes that I noticed most. They were huge, light brown, and seemed to be filled with tears. It seemed as though sheíd always had those tears. She was so sad.
I will never forget those eyes.
Their gaze would not let me turn away. They pulled me out of the chaotic street into a harsh reality that I could not face. I was there shopping, complaining about how I couldnít afford anything and here was a girl who could not take her eyes off me Ė and the bags I was carrying.
I turned my head but continued to watch her out of the corner of my eye. When I looked back for the second time her father pushed her towards me and shouted at her to ask me for spare change.
I desperately spun around to my aunt, who was still focused on getting a better deal. How could I get out of this? My aunt didnít know what I was thinking and didnít figure it out until it was too late.
The little girl was standing right behind me. She stood there with those eyes fixed on me. I could feel them driving into the back of my head. My aunt saw her, and being accustomed to dealing with beggars on the streets, shooed her away and shouted at her to get lost.
The girl did not budge. My eyes slowly filled with tears and I could feel the burning lump in my throat growing.
The sounds on the street seemed muted to me. All I could hear was my aunt instructing me not to worry about the girl and not to pay her any attention. And absolutely not to give her any of my money.
Then it happened.
She reached up and tapped me on the back. A cold shiver shot down my spine, the tears in my eyes got warm, and everything was blurry. I could feel a tear dropping down my right cheek.
My aunt looked at me, then at the girl. She raised her hand and yelled at her to go away. The little girl, startled by my aunt, ran to her father. He scolded her for not getting any money from me and yanked her arm, taking her further down the street.
My aunt paid for the quilt and led me back towards her car. I looked back as the girl turned down an alley with her father. Her hand hung at her side, cupped, as though accustomed to reaching out to people and begging them for money.
To her I was another shallow tourist who could spend money on shopping but could not spare even one rupee. One rupee, which would have helped here get something to eat that night.
When I returned home to Canada, I had nightmares every night for a month. That little girl was always there and I would cringe when I imagined her tapping me on the back.
I still see her almost every night while Iím lost in my thoughts before falling asleep. I wonder what she is doing at that exact moment, what she looks like now, and whether or not she has made her father proud.
She probably doesnít remember me or realize the profound effect she had on my life. But I admire that little girl for teaching me to appreciate my life and all of the things I have, especially those six dollars in my bank account.
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