As I scurried back and forth through the house, preparing my things, checking email, and planning half a dozen things for tomorrow plus thinking of dinner tonight, I observed my house worker sitting on the steps staring out. Her jobs for present were complete and she sat and stared. I felt a longing to sit beside her and stare together but reminded myself of the silliness of staring, the contempt of my schedule, and all the things that needed to be done by evening.
I have thought often of late about staring. I live in a country of “starers.” It is not uncommon for people to even come close to get a nearer stare, or to stop whatever they are doing to observe in detail what I am doing. Staring is not rude but rather an unspoken national hobby. The Lonely Planet even included a side note in their book about my country on staring. Once I tried to teach a girl a lesson by staring back and then waving (in acknowledgment that I caught her staring), but she was only thrilled that I had waved and waved back enthusiastically!
All these years staring has been a thorn in my side, a local pastime I hated and despised, something I strived hard to protect my children from. Sometimes we would put up newspapers in front of our kids to break the glare of all those eyes staring. Years later, we found out that our darling kids thought staring was like a compliment, and they were quite dejected at the coldness of the West where staring is not practiced!
Once I stood terribly conspicuously on a busy road waiting outside the train station. My two daughters and I were waiting for my husband to find a taxi. The only foreigners in what felt like hundreds of miles, we stood out, to say the least. Looking down and trying to shrink didn’t help like we secretly hoped it would. Trying another tactic of the “this is no big deal to stand here on this big road, I do it all the time” attitude didn’t work because of the uncertainty in my eyes. As the sun beat harder, the dust swirled, the beggars surrounded us, and the sweat dripped down our foreheads, we were suddenly surprised to find ourselves a science project. An elderly man in a white Punjabi with a long gray beard, plastic sandals, and shaky hands brought his two grandsons to us. He proceeded to come closer and closer, telling the boys in an old, shaky voice that we were foreigners. It was calmly explained that we are white all over and that even our eyes and hair were totally different. He invited the boys to step closer and then told them in closing, “Just have a good long look at them.” The Grandfather happily watched as we were looked at from head to toe and given a very detailed stare by both boys. We tried all our tactics, but they weren’t designed for 6-inch exposure to strangers—so we did what you would do. We looked from side to side and pretended we were on another planet!
Where I live, the poor and uneducated are the best all-around starers. They have yet to let time constraints hem them in—a day passes, another comes, and no one cares if they don’t know the special name of each single one. Their days are called the day that the storm hit, the day the neighbor died, the day the pond overflowed, and the day we saw a foreigner in our village. If something interesting happens it deserves a good looking over, a calling to friends to come and see with them. We share good book titles, movie favorites, and websites; they share life experiences. Westerners are champions at capturing images, interesting sights, and one-of-a-kind performances. The poor are only able to record in their minds and hearts, and so they stare and stare to get a good long-term memory going.
I wonder what God thinks of staring. Would he prefer a good stare at humankind, rather than my quick bustling from here to there, performing duties and good work in His name but never pausing to just take a good stare at all He has created and His handiwork in the area of cultures and people? Mary stared, King Darius must have stared at Daniel that night after the den episode, Moses stared at God for 40 days and forgot to eat, Sarah stared at her husband’s guests, Hannah probably stared a good while at her miracle baby, and for sure Elisha’s servant was quite awestruck at the heavenly sight he witnessed. “Why don’t I stare more?” I asked myself. “Why do I resort to doing, doing, doing, and never take time to just think or consider or rest?” Rest becomes another filled activity in our lives as we rush to finish books, watch new movies, plan fun things to do while resting, travel to our “favorite resting place,” and then take care of fussy kids while frustratingly reminding ourselves, “This is my rest!”
I tease my over-ambitious, highly motivated mother that after reading her emails I feel like I need a good nap—she is busy enough for 10 people! Aren’t we all like that these days? If you add on to that the stress of needing to email our friends about our lives and what we did on our “rest,” you might be able to understand my longing to just sit and do some staring. Staring doesn’t accomplish anything on our to-do lists, but it certainly would help to put life into perspective, reminding us of all we have, and allowing us to fall in love with our Savior all over again. People who stare notice detail: have you ever stared at your carpet and suddenly found a neat design or last week’s cookie crumbs? People in love are allowed to stare, and they love to stare at each other. With each glance, they put their loved one deeper into their memory. I once read a piece of advice that has stuck with me for a long time. It said to make sure once a day to look up at the sky and remember that we are a little dot on this big earth traveling around the sun. I try to do this sometimes when I am in the middle of traffic and sitting in a rickshaw with pollution filling my lungs—I just glance up at the birds and sky and think how unimportant all of this is. Then I have to smile at how small I must look in the realm of the universe.
As followers of the Way, as lovers of Jesus, let us remember to stare more often, to turn off the sounds of media-crazed earth, and to look out on all He has done. Just take time out to do some real staring!