When I was in college many moons ago, I had a friend I will never forget. Her name was Jajana. She was born and raised in Japan until her American father moved the family to the United States when she was seventeen. She was quiet,shy and mostly an introverted person, not seeking social status or friends. One day in the dining room, I noticed her intently staring at my friends and I. Being the jerks that we were, my friend Emily blurted out, “What are you looking at?” It sounded curt, short and harsh…… Without saying a word, Jaj grabbed her tray and left the dining room without finishing her meal. I felt bad for what had just happened.
Later in the week, I saw her sitting on the park benches on the grassy lawn of the school, alone. I walked over and sat down beside her. I explained to her how sorry I was for the dining room incident, apologizing for how my friends had treated her and apologizing for my lack of intervention. She did not respond at all. The silence was extremely awkward, making me extremely uncomfortable. Having said what I needed to say, I gathered my books and got up to leave…..as I tossed my bag across my shoulder, Jaj spoke.
“I was not meaning to stare at you and your friends. I was admiring how beautiful you all were. I was admiring how happy you all were. I was not staring. I was admiring. But when your friend yelled at me, all the beauty I had seen in you and your friends, was gone. I saw you as you really were. You judge too quickly. What you see always depends on what you are looking for.”
I did not know what to say. I stood there, speechless. Without another word, Jaj picked up her bag and walked away, swiftly heading to her dorm. “ What you see depends on what you are looking for.” Powerful words, powerful thought to ponder. …..
How many times do each of us look at a person and judge them based on how we look at them? If a man is too softly spoken, we judge him as being gay. If a woman wears her jeans too tightly, she is a cheap, loose woman. If a man walks out of church on Sunday morning, he is holy and righteous. If a young woman is at a bowling alley drinking beer, she is a redneck running with the wrong crowd. It really does boil down to what we see is dependent on what we are looking for. We don’t know the the soft-spoken man is gay. None of us were in his bedroom last night now were we? The woman with the tight-fitting jeans? Maybe she just had a baby and hasn’t lost the baby fat. She may be a loving wife and a good mother. The man coming out of church Sunday may be a a ring leader for kiddie porn……The young woman at the bowling alley may have just returned from a tour of duty, having served her country and is relaxing with her friends as they welcome her safe return home. Perception. Judgement.
You see, Jaj, had judged my friends and I that day in the café as popular, happy, pretty people. She saw the good in us, just by looking.. My friends on the other hand, did not. We assumed that she was a misfit,a foreigner seeking to judge or condemn us Americans. We were the judgmental ones. We summed her up merely by her appearance.
Jaj and I became great friends a year later, actually becoming suite-mates. She was driven, extremely intelligent, shy, focused, kind and my best friend throughout the rest of our college lives. Today she is doctor,somewhere in a Third World Country, running a medical clinic and an orphanage. Emily? I lost track of her over the years, but last I heard, she was a waitress in a cocktail bar in Vegas.
The moral of this story? Things are not always as they appear, and often what we see is what we are looking for. We should always check ourselves as we start to pass judgement on other people and ask ourselves, ” What are you looking at?”