It was three years ago that I unexpectedly stumbled upon what beauty truly meant. At a tender age, impressionable and naïve, I was easily swayed by anything that stood in front of me and thus, having my perception of beauty constantly re-defined. But just like how true love only touches one’s soul once, I realized how the privilege to experience beauty, just pure and simple beauty, is given only once to a person.
Near where I live, there is a beige building lined with a wide and high footpath. Across the street, long and thin trees border the small stretch of field that extends the place. During the winter months, the branches are naked (almost as though being stripped of dignity) and curled into snake-like bodies. The sun rises, but rarely does it bless the bleak days with its light. So, any chance for a fantastic explosion of life to happen diminishes greatly. However, the period of autumn that precedes the hollowness of winter is where I suppose something magical happens. Just like how a traveller finds the greatest pleasure and joy during their journey and within the detours they take than more so in the destination itself, autumn is the journey before winter is reached. The cold is soothing and the warmth charming; you see life slowly shying away from you like how a child hides behind their mother in front of a stranger. It becomes the final chance to experience the vibrancy of life before spring arrives with its fresh and new perspective after months of darkened days.
I was returning home from school during an autumn month in my friend’s car, sitting next to the window on the right. The sun was shining in the most tender way; not too bright that it robs one’s eyes to see anything, but not too weakly either wherein everything seems too ordinary. The trees were dressed with a coat of leaves of varying shades of red as though they were caught in a fire, but didn’t occur to them to call for help. The street was fairly quiet with rarely anyone passing by, except a Man walking down the footpath.
My Father is someone who likes to make up his own quotes and deliver them to people during everyday conversations, but we rarely pay much attention. One such phrase that used to mean nothing to me was: “Every Man has beauty”, but who knew that I would see this maxim transform into reality and perhaps even transform me?
The road ahead slightly curved causing the car to slow down. As it did so, I looked out of the window to see the Man walking down the footpath. And perhaps like the moment in one’s day when everything seems to have come to a halt, my life had paused for a slight instant. The Man was simple: he was wearing a purple jumper and from the car I could make out the soft zig-zag patterns lining the fabric, and the collar of a white shirt worn underneath around his neck. He had paired that with light brown trousers and dark brown shoes. His skin was slightly tanned, hair a little coarse and one could say that it wasn’t his biggest point of concern, and the Man was walking with his hands in the trouser-pockets. As I leaned in closer towards the window, my fingers gripping onto the edge, I saw how the sunlight streaming in through the leaves was playing with the strands of his hair, making me appreciate the different tones of brown that came along with it. The Man wasn’t doing much. Just walking down the path like many other passers-by do on a regular basis. But I suppose, the main difference was that I found that Man, or rather those fleeting moments, to be the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. The car was driving away and I was turning around desperately just so I could continue seeing that Man underneath the sunlight for a few more seconds, but soon enough, he became a mere dot disintegrating into the distance.
I don’t know why, but after I had come home that day, I felt so incredibly sad and I remember thinking that there wasn’t anything in the world that would be able to make me happy again, but that Man. That Stranger. I felt like a child torn away from its favourite toy and being told that I would never be allowed to play with it ever again. I kept asking myself ‘why did I find him so beautiful?’. It was funny though because I kept on thinking how such feelings may have never existed- and my idea of beauty may still be indefinite- if a few factors were not the way they were. What if I were sitting on the left side and not the right? What if the day wasn’t sunny? What if the Man didn’t have his hands in the trouser pockets? Would I still have found him beautiful? The moment may have never existed and nor this funny memory of mine.
I have spent these past years nurturing this image of a Man walking down a path on an autumn afternoon and I admit that it has perhaps been my greatest inspiration for everything. I imagine talking to him and play out hour-long conversations in my mind. That Man for me has no name, yet I imagine him to have the most beautiful name there is to be had in this world. I wonder what he is doing now as I write this. And if I were to see him again, when will it be? Another autumn afternoon? Or perhaps in the winter when he may be wearing a thicker jumper and a coat? How old will I be and how old would he be? Will I still find him beautiful?
I think I will.
In the following post, I argue my viewpoint concerning the statement above. I hope you enjoy reading it 🙂
What is education? I present this question to you with my earnest curiosity because its answer has remained unprecedented. A question that superficially appears so easy to decode with our effective education system, yet has fooled us with its ambiguity. Is it simply opening up a notebook; writing a date and a title; and answering questions 1 to 5? Is that what education is? If we are so adamant that we have cracked the code behind this question, why do we tremble in fear to expose our children- our future- to the real world? After all, the purpose of education is to prepare our children for the real world.
“I’m extremely worried about this generation’s children: they do not know anything about the real world! And by real world, I mean the outside! The world!” This was a vehement response by one of the participants of a survey that I carried out amongst my relatives, regarding the children of the 21st century. And I’m certain that you have encountered this type of cynical attitude towards the younger generation multiple times. And, why shouldn’t you? Because after all, it is true. As much as it pains my heart to shake my head in accordance with such painful criticisms, I shamefully do so. My dear readers, how many times have you spotted teenagers in complete awe of the beauty of this nature? Zero. You have not. Therefore, it is time that we allow our children to spread their youthful wings and experience what real fresh air feels like. The erroneous notion that they will have plenty of time to do this “when they are older” needs to be eliminated because they will not. The need to explore the world; the need to explore the magnificent wonders it has to offer; the need to explore the countless unopened doors; and the need to explore numerous lessons that have not been taught- and may never be able to be taught by the confines of a classroom- is indispensable. How grand are the Pyramids of Egypt? How magical is the Sundarban of Bangladesh? How enchanting is the water of Caño Cristales of Colombia? The answers to these tantalizing questions do not lie in the pages of a leather bound textbook, but rather so in the corners of our thriving world.
However, on the other end of the spectrum one might argue that by sacrificing the traditional method of education we will be severely depriving our children of experience of how to work in a professional environment. I asked five of my friends (who attend school on a regular basis) to sit still on a chair in front of a desk, emulating a classroom/professional work environment, for 15 minutes without allowing themselves to become distracted. And 4 out of 5 were able to do so successfully. Afterwards, I asked my older sister what this result reflected, explaining to her what the environment was like. Her response was that “it is a reflection of how dedicated and responsible workers they will be once they have entered the workforce”. Furthermore, how they will be the reason behind why our economy prospers. Now, I ask you this: what formula (that you were taught in school, whilst sitting on a chair) proves that having the ability to sit still on a chair equates to maximum productivity? After all, for a prospering national economy we would require highly-productive individuals. The real world demands decision-makers, adventurers and risk takers. Imagine: time wasted whilst sitting on a chair could have been invested in discovering another facet of the world that lay dormant in front of our ignorant eyes. Just imagine. Moreover, my Father always told me that “travelling teaches you patience”. I could not agree more. In order to be able to lead this world into the realms of prosperity, one requires the determination and willingness, which time spent hiking through the rocky roads of the real world can only teach you.
The mind of a child has no limits. Unless it is confined. The mind of a child has room for plenty of colours, explorations and lessons. By being allowed to experience education in an environment that thrives on their curiosity to explore will only cave pathways that inspire them. Our children will learn languages and not just be limited to saying, “Where is the cinema?” Our children will be adults, confident in their identity and bravery. Our children will be individuals who will know which is the correct path to take in the face of adversity. These are lessons too valuable to sacrifice and too priceless to be taught in the scribbled pages of a textbook. We must allow our children to connect with the world; not merely stare at it from a distance.
What is education? Is it in the confinements of a square room with rows of painted desks and chairs? Or does it await in the vast beauty of the real world?
The following post is a follow up on the last piece, American Dream. It is in the form of a letter. I hope you enjoy reading it! Thank you 🙂
My Dearest Mother,
I miss your calling terribly hard. You used to call me “My Dreamer” and gently stroke your hand through my hair. I remember shrugging away with a smug look like a naïve novice, who is yet to receive a visit from reality, and click my tongue and roll my eyes. “Dreamer” didn’t hold any meaning: it was more a curse to me. The fear of just being only a dreamer still sleeps within me like a deeply-rooted illness of the mind. It wakes me up frequently during the nights. Jolts me out of the layers of fabricated comfort. Even so, when you used to call me your ‘dreamer’, it sounded sweet like grandmother’s winter treats. But now that I stand amidst the blackness of my future, it no longer is. My very own dreams are now the metal claws around my neck, stealing every breath I take. I bury myself in the ashes of my dreams every night, hoping that you will come and save me. Come and save your dreamer.
I can no longer keep up with this city. I feel old. In fact, you may not even recognize me! My skin has become like paper, similar to the old factory worker you used to talk about. Dirt and dust from this city’s restless ambiance have embedded itself between my nails and my eyes have sunken in, like your cakes when you forget to add baking powder in them. I have shaved my head because the thought of having shoulder-length hair no longer excites me. The cracks in my skin mock me, resembling the different paths I perhaps could’ve taken in life.
I can no longer keep up with this city. Its energy. Its jarring rhythm. Its ugly betrayal. My Father would be happy to know that I no longer dream. And that I want to come back home.
Sometimes, I go for walks by myself around this city during the nights. It’s a different sort of beauty. But it makes me laugh because it’s as though the sins of this city seep through amidst the neon lights and you see your dreams scattered here and there: scrunched up in between dollars; spray-painted across the walls; abandoned in packs of cigarettes on the sidewalks. You hear the police raids (sometimes with the rain) and the prostitutes, and the deaths of many young hopes and I eventually return to my small apartment, which I still have not called home. It’s funny.
I was cleaning my apartment a few days ago and found a photograph of myself from my first time in this city. I have lost a lot of weight and the sweater that I was wearing, which you had made for me, no longer fits.
I miss your calling, Mother.
Struggling to find my way through this busy maze, just like these New York taxis, I arrived in this city with many other hopeful and naïve dreamers. ‘The American dream’: so bright, so ambitious, so tantalizing. It was the brightest star of a dreamer’s sky, promising for a better life which couldn’t be bought anywhere else.
The heat of New York was like a mother’s warm embrace to me the first time I placed my tiny, desperate feet upon the American soil. I remember feeling so new; nothing compared to the magnitude of this city. Enamoured by the flamboyance of the giant edifices and cafes, I gladly used to stroll down the streets- a disillusioned fool- almost as if I were happy to be lost, void of any navigation. I was a defenceless ant in front of these colossal giants and any moment I would be devoured mercilessly into an oblivion where dreams never come true; only I didn’t realize it. The city was too incredible, enticing my childlike eyes with colours that never had encountered my sight before. Cacophony of car horns; the screams and swears of New York drivers; frantic typing on old-fashioned typewriters were a melody sung by a fantastical fairy to me that I slept to every night, ignoring the fact that I was so tired. So exhausted.
Suddenly, pushed violently into the reality of my fantasy city, realization poured down on me like hailstones. A realization that only came too late. Searching for a map to find myself, horns threatened to run me over whilst impatient office workers trampled on my unsheltered desires, rushing to enter the closing doors of the lift. The discordance- that I mistook for an orchestra- soon became terrifying cries of an abandoned child.
The American dream: a fairy tale stitched by a wicked witch to beguile us who perhaps dream a little too much.