We all watched that droplet of water racing down the windowpane, racing against its other friends, bravely facing the obstacles which the path set for it, never stopping until it reached that finish line where it would disappear—forever. We all watched it bump into other very similar droplets of water, and after a few milliseconds of struggle, we watched our droplet of water come out of the struggle sometimes slightly bigger than it was before, but never really unscathed. We all lost that droplet of water we were so intently following, lost it amongst all the other droplets of water that were so alike, yet we knew that—after having given it a few seconds of our lives—that droplet of water was different from the others: that droplet of water was a winner.
We are all little droplets of water always rushing to that finish line, always wanting to get there as soon as possible because that is the only thing most of us know about life: reaching that final destination, crossing that finish line, completing a daily task, getting through the day. We’re all rushing through life, crossing millions of stranger’s paths, sometimes making eye contact, sometimes avoiding it; running through a park keeping our mind on that 10-kilometre goal, phones strapped onto our bodies keeping track of every step we take, knowing full well that it is only our very last step which will really make a difference. We’ve all done it at some point in our lives, it is a "way of life" some may even say, but let me tell you what happened to me when I stopped—just for ten seconds—and took myself out of the never-ending race I called my life.
All it takes are those few seconds that you’ll remember for the rest of your life as the day you stopped surviving and started living—at least that was how it happened for me.
As usual, I was rushing to get to my destination. It was nearly six o’clock and I had to get back home to make myself dinner and rush through that too in order to get a head start on my school assignments. Deadlines, projects, cooking, house chores, administrative work, amongst others, were a few things bubbling inside that head of mine that particular evening. To reach my place there was a park I had to cross and that’s what I was doing, blindly following the path which I thought I knew off by heart, my feet moving to a choreography that I had practised a million times to get home... And that’s where the story really begins...
1. One single word: stop.
I had not noticed him because I was too busy creating a to-do list in my mind, but a stranger was heading straight towards me. No—not in the I’ll-swerve-out-of-your-way-once-I-reach-you kind of way, had I been more attentive, I would have noticed that he had been heading straight for me, his eyes fixated on his target: me. My eyes were on the sandy pathway so even if he was straight in front of me, I still did not see him coming. However, I felt it. That feeling when someone invades your personal space—it makes you feel uncomfortable, and forces you to take a step back—that was exactly what I felt. But in that second before the human collision, I heard that word, it was a whisper that gently caressed my cheek almost making it tingle, as though someone had lightly brushed a strand of hair away from my face.
2. Those eyes
The word had taken me by so much surprise that my body froze and the impending crash of two human bodies never came. Had I been more aware of my environment, I would have noticed that he had purposefully invaded my personal space, he had approached me with a goal in mind but that goal was not to tackle me to the ground, so he had actually been the one to stop the crash. My body was still frozen, I did not look up to see who I had almost crashed into, I did not have to because a second later I was staring into a pair of mismatched eyes. One was blue and the other green; both were absolutely beautiful and they were drawing me in. His pupils had dilated and the colours in his eyes were strangely becoming brighter and brighter. I was spellbound, unable to rip my gaze from his and unable to pull my body away from his. It had only taken him two seconds to have my full attention.
3. The reflection
I did not even notice the speed at which his hands shot out of his pockets to steady me because his eyes never left mine.
It was just starting to get dark because the sun had just set behind me and the sky was streaked with magnificent brushes of red and orange. It took me only a third second to admire how the park was actually beautiful at this precise time of the year. The last streaks of sunlight gleamed on the surface of the running water in the stream that ran across the lush green park. The shrubs of white seasonal flowers had bloomed and their petals were sparkling as though someone had sprayed them with glitter.
How did I know all this? Because everything behind me was reflected in those bright eyes of his—which I could not seem to take my eyes away from.
4. The story they held
I felt a slight pressure on my arm, as he made sure I was steady, but I completely ignored it. I did not want to lose our eye contact. However, the awe did not last very long, for those beautiful mismatched eyes held a story that was revealed to me during the fourth second.
There was definitely pain there. As I analysed his eyes, a heavy, dark, grey sheet of fog settled over the beautiful imagery I had been mesmerised by just seconds ago. This cloud’s weight and persistence gave me the impression that the man standing in front of me had faced many battles and his hardships had not left him undamaged. However, strangely enough, the fog that clouded his vision, and hence the reflection I could see in his eyes wavered, disappeared completely once in a while, revealing a world filled with beauty. I could only assume that these moments when he could see everything whole again represented the moments in his life where he actually took a second to appreciate the beauty that the world had to offer him. Those fleeting moments of clarity were hard to seize, and the one I was holding on to lasted for a single second—but oh—what a beautiful second it was!
5. Rediscovering the world through sight
Through this stranger’s eyes, I began to rediscover the world that had been right in front of my eyes all those years. It took me three whole seconds to rediscover the world I was already living in.
His warm breath in my face did not bother me, because, in that second, I was fighting desperately against the fog that had clouded his vision, just to get lost in the beauty of the park I thought I had known off by heart. He did not break our eye contact, but something on my face at that precise moment made him smile and I could tell that it was genuine. It was not his lips that caught my attention, nor his perfectly white teeth—no—what grasped my attention was the way that his smile reached his eyes. The fog was starting to clear away from his vision once again, and it looked like it was going to disappear for good. In his green eye was reflected the lush green grass that seemed to be inviting me to come and run barefoot in its vastness. Each strand of grass was so delicate and precise—some slightly browned from the hot summers we had recently endured, others gleaming from the early dew formation on their surface—their eternal beauty sent chills down my arms. In that second, my mind was blown by the endless natural beauty surrounding us.
6. Rediscovering the World through sound
I had to blink. I tried my best not to since I did not want to lose the beautiful image reflected in his eyes. It took only a second, but in that second I learnt that my eyes were not the only thing that could help me appreciate the beauty in the world. In that sixth second, oh I heard it all! Starting with the sweet sound of two birds chirping above my head, it sounded like they were in love; the water gently flowing across the stream in harmony with the birds felt soothing, but what got my attention in that second was the sound of two pairs of footsteps behind me. I could not see them, but I heard the sound that their shoes made as they brushed against a thousand grains of sand scattered all along the pathway. My ears had grown used to the sound of it, but it was only now that I realised how pleasant it was to the ears compared to the usual dull footsteps on the tarmac. This sound had texture, it had a personality of its own, and most of all, it blended in with the rest of the various sounds in this park. It took me one single blink to understand the beauty of our world through the most natural sounds.
7. Rediscovering the World through touch
When my eyes fluttered opened once again, they immediately found their focus point—those eyes. Only this time, the single second that it took me to blink allowed me to shift my focus onto his other coloured eye. His blue eye caught a glint of light reflecting on the river's surface, causing it to sparkle. It was not like looking into someone’s eyes anymore, it felt like being immersed in an ocean of velvety warm water. I could almost feel the water on my skin, but I knew that it was just the touch of the gentle breeze on my bare skin. With my eyes still lost in his, my attention shifted to the air that surrounded me. The temperature was slightly low, but it would allow me to make the difference once I stepped back into my small heated apartment. My hair was tied in a messy bun, but I felt the particles of air slowly forcing their way to through to my neck, they felt prickly against my skin, but it was not an unpleasant feeling. I felt the man’s warm hands wrapped around my arms, and felt how warm my skin was under his firm touch. I felt the hardness of the ground between my feet but also the few grains of sand which were withering from the tiny hills that had formed underneath my shoes, causing my shoes to dig a grain deeper into the sand with every passing second. That single second was sufficient for me to feel these wonders that had stared me in the face for years as I walked down this path.
8. Millions of possibilities
During the eighth second of my encounter with this man, a deep realisation hit me. I guess it’s one of those things that linger on the surface just waiting to be found. I understood right then and there that life was made of a series of possibilities, and I could choose to step out of the never-ending race I called life, to live in this new world I was experiencing. I did not need much to do so, simply stepping outside would give me access to these small pleasures. When the thought hit me, I guess a smile crept up on my face, because I could see confusion in the man’s eyes—one second I was serious and the next I was smiling.
9. Stop surviving, start living
I saw the man’s eyes acquiescing my reaction to whatever information I had just processed and he nodded his head slightly, still maintaining our eye contact. He was not going to question me, and I could tell that simply seeing a smile on a stranger’s face was sufficient for him today. The fog that had slowly seeped into his eyes yet again began to clear as he simply smiled back at me. There we stood for a second, two perfect strangers locked in an intense gaze—the fact that I understood him allowed me to understand a part of me that I had thought non-existent up until that moment. Those clouded visions of his, that stopped him from seeing the beauty surrounding him; I was exactly the same; many things stopped me from appreciating the small things that surrounded me. I was always too focussed on what the future held or what destination I had to get to that I had never stopped to enjoy the journey to my numerous destinations. I still had so many things to do—nothing had changed—but the millions of possibilities that I had opened myself up to during those nine seconds sent a wave of relief coursing through my body. In that precise moment, I decided to stop surviving and start living.
10. The last second from an onlooker’s point of view
To any observer in the park that day, the ten seconds that passed between us was a rapid exchange between two blinded strangers who almost collided into one another. The man had grabbed onto the woman’s arms to stop her from falling, and for a brief moment, they had locked eyes, during which they had smiled at each other kindly. During the last second there had been a brief exchange of words:
"I’m sorry—are you okay?" the man asked the woman, his eyebrows raised in concern,
"Yeah... I’m fine, thanks..." the woman replied as she pulled herself away from him, smiling more to herself than to him as she walked away from the blind man.
And poof—just like that, the ten seconds had passed and they had both moved on.
However, for them, this exchange had meant so much more.
We all watched that droplet of water racing down the windowpane, racing against its other friends, bravely facing the obstacles which the path set for it, never stopping until it reached that finish line where it would disappear—forever. I chose not to be one of these droplets of water anymore and that was the story of how these ten seconds had changed my whole take on life.