Eyes always mattered to me after that. Eyes scared me or drew my interest. Eyes reminded me that someone else was there. When I was 7 and went to the zoo with my second-grade class, I saw chimpanzee eyes for the first time—the eyes of an unhappy animal, all alone, locked in a bare, concrete-floored, iron-barred cage in one of the nastier, old-fashioned zoos. I remember looking at the chimp, then looking away. The chimp had somehow become the target of some of the kids' attention. They shouted at him, laughed, and threw peanuts—threw them at him rather than to him. The chimp had nowhere to hide and, lucky for the kids, nothing to throw back. He leaped about and screamed, and the kids thought it was really funny. I looked at the animal's eyes—frantic, furious and maybe not sane anymore—and if I could have left the zoo at that moment, I would have. I was still too young to understand the concept of being ashamed of my species. I just felt horrible. I wanted the other kids to shut up. I wanted the chimp to be free.
At age 7, I learned to hate solid, physical cages—cages with real bars like the ones that made the chimp's world tiny, vulnerable and barren. Later I learned to hate the metaphorical cages that people try to use to avoid getting to know one another—cages of race, gender or class.
I've known since I was barely 3, sitting on the stairs with Baba, that it is better—much more interesting—to get to know others and to discover who and what they are. It is better to look into their eyes with open curiosity and learn once more about someone else.