Looking into Each Other’s Eyes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI randomly decided to look – really look – at people I passed by on my way into work yesterday.  From the commuter train to the pedway to the CTA to the station to the block before our office building’s front door, I would try to catch eyes and smile at random people.

For many cultures – in East Asia and most Muslim countries – looking into the eyes of someone, especially someone of the opposite sex – is considered disrespectful or forward.  But for me, I was hoping to acknowledge people who are often invisible:  the lady beside me on the train, the security guard in the pedway, the ticket taker, the subway minstrel.

And then someone tripped me as we were getting on the subway.  It was an accident as he was trying to sidestep a guy with a rolling suitcase.  But I crashed to the ground – eyeglasses knocked off my head – and, of course, people stared.  Two skinned knees but all was fine.  Except for one thing:

The guy who accidentally knocked me down never looked at me.  He never looked at me in the face, much less in the eyes.  If he had to identify me five minutes after our little collision, he wouldn’t have been able to do it.  Was she white? Black? Wearing a purple coat?  Short?  Old? Freckled?  He wouldn’t have been able to say.

At the risk of creeping people out, I consider it a spiritual practice to look each other in the eye.  It makes us real.  It acknowledges people.  We can even thank them with our eyes.  It reminds us that we are all human beings with lives and stresses and work to do and people to love.

That’s all.

Image source.

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2 responses to “Looking into Each Other’s Eyes

  1. When they say that “eyes are the windows to the soul” – I believe it. There is a very vulnerable feeling when looking people in the eye, which – honestly – can bring on (imo) the fear of “being seen” on the part of both whose eyes “lock”

    This is a sad commentary – imo – but one I believe exists. The guy who knocked you down may have not looked at you out of his own embarrassment. It’s conjecture, of course, but maybe he didn’t want to be seen in that state. And – at a crime scene, for example, it’s a sad commentary as to why we might not be able to identify people. This brings me to another thought … that maybe we don’t want to lock eyes for fear that this kind of vulnerability could lead to being the victim of a crime in a public place..

    We need to deal with the fear of our own vulnerability and humanity in order to allow ourselves to be “windows of our souls”.

    FYI – been following you for some time, having been directed here by a high school / church friend who is now a minister, herself, in the Philly area. I am a blogger, myself – a photo blog – though it’s nearly defunct but hope to revive it.

  2. Wonderful post. It immediately reminded me of the mystic Thomas Merton’s ephiphany while walking around Louisville in 1958 (a story which I first read about in Tom Long’s “Testimony: Talking Ourselves Into Being Christian.”

    “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race … there is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

    I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all of the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…”

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