II still remember that day, when our eyes first acquainted. A trivial moment of nothing – yet the timeless beginning of everything. —Timothy Joshua
The eyes may be the “windows to the soul” but recognition connects us to what we’re seeing. Eye contact is a superpower of human connection and we are wise to wield it carefully. With the power to enliven or enrage, it is a profound gift that enables us to touch someone without touching them.
What happens when we experience recognition, and connection, through eye contact? A recent moment during a weekday Mass brought this home to me. In a normal Sunday Mass, parishioners remain mostly anonymous among a full church during the service. The priest conducting the service from the altar, the congregation spread among the pews. Weekday Mass has fewer attendees and is far more intimate. At one point during the Catholic Mass, we exchange a “sign of peace” that is typically a handshake. At a recent weekday service, our priest walked among the pews to shake everyone’s hand. Arriving at my seat, he looked me in the eyes and said “Good morning, Phil. Peace be with you.”
I see you.
In that moment, his recognition hit me in a special way. When we made eye contact, he truly saw me. Though I was perfectly aware that he knew who I was, the impact of recognition in that moment hit me powerfully. I thought to myself: he knows me. This man is my friend.
During the course of our days, we are “looking” constantly. Glancing this way or that. Reading. Watching TV. Watching the kids. Meeting with each other. Most of the time, our “looking” is casual, cursory. Consider what happens when we focus. Detail emerges. Nuances, implications, and possibilities appear. Focus requires concentration and we bring it to bear in that moment. Now, imagine that power applied toward a person. Powerful.
We look at people all day long but how often do we truly see them? Our eyes carry so many special gifts waiting to be given: acknowledgement, empathy, sadness, admiration, love, affection, desire, friendship, awareness. These are superpowers lying waiting to be applied. The truly wonderful thing about these gifts is that they truly multiply the more you give them away. To truly see another human being is to make his or her life better for a while.
“I see you,” I said, and my grandson giggled. His eyes said, “I see you too,” and my heart leapt. That is power. That is connection. How often do we have the opportunity to really see someone and allow him to know it? How often do we pause and focus on that moment? Human connection is born through our eyes and that connection changes lives. Remember when you watched your child fall from his or her bike? You hesitated, waiting for the eye contact to determine if she was hurt. She looked directly at you and you knew instantly. I see you. I understand you. I feel your hurt. I’m here for you.
Windows to the soul? Sure. But our eyes are more than windows waiting passively for someone to look through. Our eyes take us out of ourselves. They allow us to actively see another person and there is nothing passive in that gift. They give away as much as they gather. They are yours and they are meant to be used for good. Use them to show those close to you that you love them. Be intentional. Then, use them to see others in all of their complex brokenness and contrasting happiness. In this you will get as much, or more, than you give.
I see you.