We are all blind.
We are blind to the person sitting across from us on the bus. The driver in the car next to us at a red light. The anonymous pedestrian rushing past us on the street.
We can see what they’re wearing, what color their hair is, how tall they are, and maybe, in a blink of intimate eye contact, the color and depth of their eyes, a glimpse of feeling and emotion.
We have been gifted with empathy, a vital tool enabling us to identify and relate to the nameless faces around us.
We may be able to feel the passiveness of the bus rider, the impatience of the driver, or the stress of the pedestrian on his way to work. These things we may be able to see. However, we are blind to their lives, to their perception of the world, to their secrets, beliefs, circumstances.
Perhaps Alden Nowlan said it best in his poem, A note on the public transportation system. “Once you’ve spoken you can never/ go back to being comfortable/ with silence.”
To what are we blind?
We are constantly exposed to the horrible conditions in other parts of the world: starvation in Africa, massacre in Libya, natural disaster in Japan. Yet, when we look into the eyes of the African child who is nothing but skin and bone we do not see what he sees.
We are blind to who his parents are, if they are still alive, or if he’s all alone. There’s no way to know whether this child has ever experienced a moment of innocence, fun, or joy. We can stare in shock at the gruesome visuals depicting hundreds of dead men, women and children tossed into piles, but it is hard to comprehend that each of these people had a name and a story unique to them.
We were not privy to the private and intimate moments between the Japanese nuclear power plant workers and their wives nor did we see their love for their children.
We are shown only the universal finale of which every human being on our planet can identify: death.
I do not remember his name, only his face. A photograph tied carefully and with love to a cross over 100 feet above the river that claimed his life. The first time I walked across High Level Bridge, it was April, the first day of spring warm enough to go out in a t-shirt.
I hung my head over the rail and closed my eyes. Did he have second thoughts? Did someone try to stop him? Is it really possible that everyone close to him were all so blind to his unhappiness?
To what are we blind?
We are blind to the private and secret thoughts of those closest to us. Blindness is not seeing your best friend’s suicidal behavior. It is the wife who chooses to turn her eyes away from her husband’s affair. It is the mother who does not see her daughter’s eating disorder, her son’s drug use. The child who never learns of his illegitimate half sibling.
Blindness is waking up next to your partner day after day, year after year, or perhaps one single night of sharing your whole physical being, staring into their eyes, but never being able to see into their soul.
Katie Bhar is a product of many emotions, many stories, and every single person she has met. She is inspired by the words she hears: the unspoken and silent words from the universe heard only in the depths of her unconscious, the love words whispered sweetly in her ears and absorbed into her heart, sometimes the hate words, and always the words we’ve yet to define. In her spare time, she relishes the feeling of living somewhere between the confines of reality and the infinity of her imagination.
Editor: Carolyn Gilligan