While walking on the sidewalk, making the trek from the ad. building to the cafeteria or any other point A to point B, I'll often find myself keeping track of some quick statistics. I'll walk passed a guy with a black backpack, and I'll tick off an avoided eye contact. Girl on her way to the gym, eyes meet and brief smile shared. Girl in a skirt hurrying to her class across campus, no eye contact. Guy I've been approaching for at least 15 seconds now, that awkward glance at each other at different times before just looking straight ahead.
I think eyes are pretty phenomenal in communication. While walking the streets of Pagudpud, looking and smiling at each individual as they looked and smiled at me, I felt like we were all enjoying each other's company, if only for a moment. There's this moment of connection, of acknowledging one another's existence and contribution to the world. You're not a tree or a building or a littered plastic bottle that I'm walking passed: you're a person, and I acknowledge this by seeing you, by taking a moment to focus my attention on you.
That's why we look at people when they're speaking, right? We want to focus our attention (or sometimes just appear to focus our attention) on them. This is considered a way to show that we're valuing their words, thoughts, and feelings.
There's something beyond this, though. We can look, but it is another matter to see. Jesus talked about this seeing beyond the surface. "Do you have eyes but fail to see, ears but fail to hear?" (Mark 8:18) Often times there is so much more going on to see, but we don't see, simply because our focus is not really on the other person. They may be talking, I may be looking, but I'm imagining what I'll say next or what I still have to get done today. But being fully present to truly see people where they're at: that's tremendous. I've had the joy of fully seeing people lately, and it really is incredible. It brings connection. It allows words to be exchanged that only eyes can exchange. And it leads us to a better understanding of those around us.
Whoever came up with the idea that "eyes are the windows to the soul" was quite clever. Our eyes give us away. They reveal who we really are, what we're honestly feeling. I've been told that my eyes smile before my mouth decides to get around to it. Someone can sound brave as they face catastrophe, but I think often the eyes betray inner uncertainty. A plastered smile can't hide a tear-up. Usually. They can hide all this perfectly well, actually--if no one is even looking.
Which brings me back to my tally of eye contact. If we don't look at people, we can't see people. If we can't see people, I think we lack a full relationship. We stay caught in our own world, behind our own eyes.
I like seeing people, understanding people, knowing people, connecting with people. So I'm going to look you in the eye. I won't stare you down as you walk passed me on your way to the library. But when we stop and we talk and I listen, I will see you. I will see you because I value you and I think you're worth seeing. What I see when I look in your eyes is something too beautiful to miss.
Time to open our eyes and see what we've been missing.