Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Fistful of Sunshine

Today I saw a young boy with the saddest expression. Whatever sorrow his eyes did not hold, his face did. There were lines etched across his face- lines that looked like tears. They weren’t very obvious lines, but I could see their shadows. He looked at me, but wasn’t looking at me- the sadness on his face looked past me, at everything else. His expression was familiar; I’ve seen many people on the streets of Dhaka with a similarly forlorn expression. It’s a vacant, hopeless loneliness that stares but doesn’t see, that cries but isn’t heard. This boy’s gaze held something deeper- a Grand Canyon of hopelessness. Looking at him, an image floated into my mind from about two years ago.

Manhattan, summer of 2005. After work, I was walking downtown to meet up with a friend. Passing by a McDonald’s, I gave into momentary hunger (as gross as McDonald’s is, I really do love the fries…) and walked in. As I sat there eating my fries, I watched the people around me (as usual). One woman sitting a table away from me caught my eye. She must have been in her 70’s, the wrinkled black skin on her face was worn out and sagging. She sat there eating the sorriest looking meal I had seen in awhile. Her clothes were shabby, and she had a battered broad-brimmed hat sitting next to her. She looked up and around a few times, and there it was- an inexplicably sad expression that seemed to look through or past people. It was a look of utter loneliness. I wanted to get up and hug her, hold her tightly, make her feel better. But of course, one doesn’t hug random strangers. And definitely not in New York City, of all places. Something in her face, in the way she looked at people, cried out loneliness and despair. It wasn’t that she was eating alone- I myself was eating alone, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t have such an expression on my face. Perhaps it was the way she looked around, perhaps it was in how she ate very slowly, as if the food is the only company she could ever have and so had to prolong its stay. Whatever it was, it emanated from her like something tangible; and I had to fight my desire to get up and hug her. I didn’t even talk to her. It’s been ingrained in me that strangers in New York City do not want to be bothered by other strangers. You don’t look them in the eyes (though I break that rule all the time), and you don’t talk to them. So I left the place feeling utterly dejected. There were millions and millions of people all over the world with such expressions. Millions who have nothing but emptiness filling their lives; so much so that they can’t help but stare out into the world with such vacancy in their souls, dripping from each and every glance, each and every blink of their eyes. Where are their little bits of happiness?

I believe that happiness comes as pit-stops along the scrawny little mess of a road we call Life. Sometimes we happen to stop because we were distracted and needed to find our way back and end up finding a little bit of happiness instead. Other times, we run for miles upon empty miles, searching for that pit-stop, but never realizing that we pass our chances just around the corner. Every time we stop at these pit-stops, we enjoy blocks of perfect moments that make up what we call ‘happiness.’ And every time, we will move on with the hope that we can return someday but we never can. In the chance that we do return to the same location, or with the same person, we will always find that things are a little different than before; things have been shuffled around a bit. Or sometimes, so many things have changed that we can’t even recognize our own perfect moments anymore… kind of like how there are places in Dhaka that are unrecognizable from a few years ago because of construction! The perfect moments will always remain, but we have to know where to find them… we can’t let emptiness eat away at us because then we’ll end up forgetting how to find those moments… or worse, we might forget that perfect moments really exist. Happiness comes in those little bottles marked ‘perfect moments,’ but we have to know they exist, that we can always find them, no matter in what shape or form, or for however long or short period of time.

I think about that old woman and the little boy I saw today and wonder… did they ever get the chance to find perfect moments in their lives? Are they searching so hard for their pit-stops that they’re overlooking the very things they are searching for? Maybe they’ll notice the next one coming up…maybe this time they’ll look at it, instead of through it..... After all, for all the complications and evil in this world, life really is full of such moments if we realize-- we just have to take our fistful of sunshine and hold it close whenever we can.