I believe in letting the Outside In.
For twenty years, I’ve lived in America in a clean, closed-off house, with four solid walls. I’m used to separation between Outside and In, and I know where boundaries lie.
But in my grandmother’s house in India, the protective barriers I value so deeply are daily transgressed: geckos cling to bathroom walls, ants act like they own the furniture, and dust has the right to perpetually embed itself in skin. Adjustment was always so frustrating: to be caked in sweat minutes after showering, to wake up swatting away mosquitoes, to ward off pushy vendors. My sanctuary quickly became our car, on discovering that – with the windows rolled up and AC on – Inside remained in and Outside stayed out.
But two winters ago, after years of affirming these boundaries, my world changed. Our car had stopped at a red light under the blazing Indian sun, when I witnessed an unusual sight: ahead, a car window was rolled down and a woman’s hand extended – not money, as is the custom – but a juice-pack to a begging child. One, two, then a swarm gathered, their little hands eagerly grabbing. Then the light turned green, and the hand withdrew, leaving a throng of sticky smiles. This faceless woman had let the elements in and touched a dozen soiled palms – but their joy made it clear it was all worthwhile. And as our car rolled past, I felt a shameful fear – a surety that, had I been that woman, those children’s throats would have remained parched, their lips, dry.
Since this time, I have thought about letting the Outside In and its implications. I have found that, though not always easy, letting the Outside In – physically, emotionally, and intellectually – can change people for the better. Princess Diana broke down walls for AIDS patients with a simple touch. By opening its borders, chanting the “melting pot” as its mantra, America achieved greatness.
Despite the complexity of the problems we face, and despite its simplicity, I dare to believe that letting the Outside In is, in fact, all we need. I believe it has the potential to heal the wounds of extremism and bring together the bitterest of enemies. If we dare to strip away our protective layers, horizons can explode. Possibilities previously untenable become real. My wildest dream – a world like Lennon’s “Imagine” – might finally become manifest.
I won’t lie: openness isn’t the easiest path, especially when I’m feeling angry, or scared, or righteous. But each day I challenge myself, against my uninspired, complacent half, to believe in what I witnessed on a dusty road. To believe in the beauty of nature seeping into walled-off homes, of new ideas fissuring preconceived notions, of kindness emanating from unlikely sources. To believe in a world where the Outside truly lives within.
For my part, it’s made me approach the world differently. For this, I will continue to believe.