The Eyes

Source: World Views by Xiaorui Zhou and Safia Southey

By Omar Auf

If there is one part of the human body which most expresses life, it’s the eyes. Notions of happiness, sadness, kindness, evil, love, and hatred are all transmitted through the eyes. When there is a discrepancy between the projections of one’s expressions and the feelings of one’s heart, the eyes reflect truth. However, it seems that whenever this matter is discussed it’s taken as poetic or exaggerated. It is in part, but not entirely.

If a friend is giving the other advice, the advice-giver may tell the advised to look people in the eyes more often in order to “seem more confident”. What the former does not understand is that the advised is not lacking in confidence, but an openness towards vulnerability and a willingness to expose oneself directly. “I don’t want people to see inside of me”, the advised may say to the advising friend, and this friend would assume such a statement is poetic.

The moment may pass with a misunderstood explanation and a swift change of topic, but that question would still linger in the air. Is it truly only a fabrication of words and expectations, or is there some reality behind the power and vulnerability of the eyes? Before this question came up, I took the matter for granted; it had always seemed obvious that the eyes carry some degree of insight into a person, and from there the idea is romanticized and exaggerated to express the movements of our hearts. Yet, now, the whole integrity of the notion of the raw truth within the eyes is at stake.

That’s the thing, we can (mostly) carefully choose which words we use, but we cannot choose what the instruments of our vision decide to pull from inside for everyone to see.

The easiest things to express are the ones closest to our hearts, yet those very same things are the hardest to articulate; it seems that a tired smile, long sigh, distant gaze, or indeed depth of eyes is easier to induce, and can tell a person more, than simple words. Or sometimes, it’s the significance behind the words which relays emotions, such as the radiant eyes and soothing voice of a mother behind her overused, under-appreciated ‘I love you’. That’s the thing, we can (mostly) carefully choose which words we use, but we cannot choose what the instruments of our vision decide to pull from inside for everyone to see. A metaphorical spark in the eyes is so real and brings about so much joy to the observer because one, it’s a rare sight, and two, it’s a true one. That throb of passion observable in the windows of an excited soul whilst endlessly talking about something so dear, as if telling the story of a life-long companion. Or the euphoria of a mind going a million kilometers (metric system is superior) per hour, un-noticeably so, except for a thin smirk at the tip of one’s mouth and an engulfing intensity to the eyes. Or, best of all, standing in front of a crowd, self-aware of the presence of this spark, just feeling all eyes on you, seeing all the attention collected, connected through mutual gaze, and knowing you have something valuable to say, and that they’re going to like it. What a feeling that is indeed.

As feelings can be positive, however, they can also be negative, especially those that we try to hide but cannot. Sadness is, by all accounts, an emotion of incredible depth. To be sad means to care, and to so strongly care about something or someone and attach their conditions to our emotional state implies that we are human. Not only that, but it implies that we are humanity.

How incredibly touching is it to see that in this restless, fast-paced world someone has the capacity to feel still, unwavering sadness. How powerful is it that, despite all distractions and gimmicks, we recognize a deeper and higher cause which invokes such sadness – and with that often comes serenity, faith, or determination. One does not necessarily have to feel sad because of an unfortunate event affecting them personally, but one can look to one of the many injustices of the world – at the elderly crying and children dying, or at the millions starving at the feet of extravagant presidential palaces and private jets – and feel something within their humanity squealing in pain from inside. Such a feeling is un-concealable in the distant eyes of a disillusioned student during the mundane proceedings of a class, or in the suppressed tears of someone trying to fully comprehend the injustice Palestinians have had to live with for ages past.

Tears are quite fascinating, as they are summoned through a strength of feeling coming from both poles of the emotional spectrum, and seep through the eyes. It is very fitting that the highest expression of emotional magnitude is transmitted through the highest expresser of emotional magnitude. However, they are only a fraction of the things transmitted by the eyes.

One need not look into someone else’s to see what is being described here, but even one’s own eyes suffice. Take a moment to gaze into your reflection and regard the pulsing life contrasting with the empty whiteness it floats upon. What you see is yourself, plain and simple, no expectations and no presumptions; you see the comprehensive truth about yourself all in a moment of pure self-reflection. If you don’t like what you see, then change it. If you see someone other than who you thought of yourself to be, then reevaluate your view on things. If looking into yourself doesn’t make you release just a feint smile, then something is off.

If you look and it scares you, then good, be scared.

Quite often, I look in the mirror and I am absolutely terrified by what I see. This is because I  see so much potential, so much desire, so much of that… that indescribable thing we see when we look in our eyes and just know… so much self, so much of that thing.

What terrifies me is twofold: first, the thought of wasting just a fraction of what I see and failing to achieve what is achievable, and second, the thought of indeed fulfilling my potential, harnessing my full ability, yet hurting people instead of helping them. What if it is inevitable that I will become evil, or am molded as such through the pursuit of this perceived potential? That is a question only for time to answer, even if the eyes hint at it.

Do not take what I just said as arrogance, as this same passion, desire, potential, and power is in every person, waiting to be summoned. All what one needs to do is rekindle the flame which the mold of society so effectively puts out, and the eyes will reflect such a flame. What is spoken of here is real, not just in the excited and impassioned eyes, but in the rising tone of the voice, the accelerated movement of the arms, and the rapid throbbing of the heart. To just focus on the eyes means to neglect the bigger picture. Yet, to just focus on the eyes is to attain the biggest, most profound picture.

Like the moon, reflecting life into the night from the sun’s distant rays, the eyes shed some light on the truth of a person amidst the pollution of social conduct and petty conversation.

The figure of the body distorts one’s perception of a person, whether positively or negatively. The same goes for all other physical features, except the eyes. Yes, eyes may have an aesthetic appeal, undoubtedly. However, it is what is so easily found beyond that initial appeal which carries the true beauty of a person: it is the reflection of heart and soul. Like the moon, reflecting life into the night from the sun’s distant rays, the eyes shed some light on the truth of a person amidst the pollution of social conduct and petty conversation. Sometimes it’s a way to skip through all the fluff and in a moment reciprocally demand “who are you”, and get some sort of an answer, but other times it’s two blank faces staring at one another in order to be polite. Going off of this note, one should take into consideration the fact that despite all that’s written, more often than not one will look into someone’s eyes and see nothing. This is not because there is nothing, but because one is closing oneself off, and thus removing one end of the connection; to look is to point one’s eyes at another’s, but to delve is to point one’s self at another. That’s the beauty of seeing something in someone – it’s never unfair or one-sided, because if one does not use their heart to look, then one’s instruments of sight will not be able to dive deep into the other side as they do not have a template of what to look for. We are essentially searching for parts of ourselves in others, little bits of relation which can remind us that we actually are human, and that there are people out there with similar hopes, faults, quirks, and experiences.

However, the most beautiful thing about these wonderful receptors of light and color is yet to be presented. One cannot possibly overstate the universality of eyes. Is there anything as indiscriminate and expressive as the eyes, which once connected completely dismiss any notions of race, socioeconomic class, age, etc. ? If one takes a moment to look at the elderly, with all their sweetness, grumpiness, weariness, and wrinkles, and then looks at their faces, one would see two totally different entities. First one would see the case which holds the self – the body, with all of its flaws. Then, though, one would see life and energy – one will not see the effect of the years tarnishing their spirit, but rather endless youth living on in the eyes, confined within the limits of an aging body. The body is flawed, but not the eyes insomuch as the eyes transmit what’s within. A flaw in the eyes means a flaw in the soul, and souls aren’t flawed. Something so unknown yet so essential to being alive cannot possibly be flawed as far as human understanding goes. To take any view otherwise means to give up on the very notions of trust, rehabilitation, and believing in someone plain and simple. To think that the very essence of humanity is flawed is to think that the eyes are flawed, but tell me when was the last time one has seen flawed eyes? One only sees tainted eyes – whether tainted by greed, lust, anger, hatred, or pain: unrelenting, unceasing, desensitizing pain.

Yes, where there is life, there must be pain. One can’t have one without the other, same as how one can’t have life without joy. What varies is the degree of each. Sometimes pain dominates the eyes to the point where it hurts a person just to look at such eyes. This is because it is pain in its rawest form, unable to hide behind appropriate social conduct or temporary comforters. It is important to recognize such a deep feeling, as people may try to hide it, understandably so, wanting to avoid sharing this feeling, but it is always incredible relief to have a pair of caring and empathetic eyes to take some of the weight off of a person.

The worst type of pain is the one in a child’s eyes. No child ever deserves to feel such a rattling feeling of loss, and have that joyous fascination in their eyes replaced by a dark sorrow. I wonder, oh I wonder, if the Bashars, Hitlers, and Stalins of the world looked into the broken eyes of a child who just lost his or her parents, home, and entire childhood, would they still remain in full conviction of their flawed ideologies and lust for power? Probably, but one still wonders how such cruelty is possible.

To be truthful means to present both light and dark, and that’s what they do.

As is evident, the eyes are not only indicators of the awesomeness within a person, but also of the exogenous malfunctions of society which inevitably affect all people. To be truthful means to present both light and dark, and that’s what they do. The connection formed between the eyes is something, no matter how much is written about it, is simply indescribable. Only once you are looking with your heart will you understand the insight and vulnerability involved – it’s like an ancient, unspoken language which humans intrinsically grasp.

Looking people in the eyes was never my first subconscious response to human interaction, there’s just something so exposing about it. Perhaps I am at fault here, what’s so wrong with exposing ourselves in the first place? Is it because we are afraid of getting hurt, and if so, what’s wrong with getting hurt? Isn’t it a risk one has to take, which is part of the human experience, and can bear great rewards. Dreams have to be stomped on by someone at some point – if they didn’t, then they wouldn’t be far-reaching dreams, they’d just be goals. I also have a dream, Mr King, many of them, in fact, and one can see them in my eyes.

Is the idea romanticized? Definitely. Is it non-existent? Not a chance. The eyes are more than receptors of light – they are receptors of self. And they are transmitters of self. Our souls bathe in our pupils, unassuming and ever-present, like the sun shining through a convergence of clouds. Then, all in a moment, two souls greet each other, sometimes with fascination and sometimes with a striking familiarity. A moment worth a thousand, one sees the other and oneself in a torrent of intensity. Then one lets go, and repeats the same process multiple times every day. Sometimes one meets an equal in mind or heart – a friend. Sometimes one meets a person tied by shared experience – family. Sometimes one meets strangers who become friends, family, or stay strangers. Sometimes, but quite rarely, one sees endless hope and a future, shares a simultaneous heartbeat and skips another, and the rest becomes history – the best history, the one not written in books, but told by the eyes… like a story which has ended, but is yet to begin. All in one moment, all in the eyes.

PS: shoutout to World Views, taking pictures of eyes is pretty cool.

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