It Takes Courage to See Eye-to-Eye

In this fast-spinning gyroscopic world, society clings to hard-and-fast categories.

Black or white
Red or blue
Foreigner or citizen
Us or them

Categories give us a handhold to grip, something to steady us as we try to make sense in the dizziness. These days, we’re holding on for dear life.

Not for their dear lives, mind you, but for our own.

We should recognize, though we often don’t, that people don’t precisely fit into categories. Individuals fit into multiple categories all at once. We are all of us out-of-the-box, bursting through barriers, blurring the edges. No one neatly fits the stereotypes. Labels itch in the wearing; the only accurate one-size-fits-all = HUMAN BEING.

It takes courage to look into someone’s eyes and see them for who they are rather than who you think they should be. Face to face, eye to eye.

We say “eye to eye” to describe our agreements, when we and others see issues from the same perspective. But how often do we actually look someone in the eyes? Especially someone with a different background, or someone with whom we disagree, or a stranger?

How long do you think you could sustain eye contact with anyone, even a loved one?

A 2016 study at Stony Brook University discovered that four minutes of sustained eye contact increases intimacy. Amnesty International recreated the study in Germany, arranging strangers, many of them recent immigrants, seated across from native Europeans. The results feel tangible. I dare you to watch it without emotion.

I asked my husband to sustain eye contact with me. I set a timer on my phone and for four minutes we sat facing each other on the edge of the bed. Even after almost three decades of marriage, those four minutes felt strangely, uniquely, intense. I chattered like a talkative preschooler almost the whole time (I didn’t read any rules about not talking, and I couldn’t help myself). Even with the safest, most loving person in my life, it took uncommon courage to intentionally look into his eyes.

No wonder we prefer categories, boxes, stereotypes. Eye contact fosters intimacy and intimacy requires courage. Intimacy requires more from us; it might ask us to change.

Most of us prefer to view others from a safe distance. These days, that distance has gotten wider, so much greater than our newly-required six feet. We’ve physically and emotionally entrenched ourselves…and others.

Obviously it would break all social norms to recreate this study throughout our days with each person we encounter. Talk about awkward.

But what might change if we made it a point to always look people in the eyes?
What might we do differently, practically during these days of pandemic panic, to increasingly look through the eyes of others?
How might our perspective change, shift, alter?
How might we see others, and the space of the planet they inhabit, differently?

In movies I’ve heard the battlefield order, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!” In other words, don’t react too early. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we all put down our weapons and looked into the eyes of those we suppose to be our enemies?

Brene Brown continues to remind us, “Courage is contagious.” It seems to me, especially now in this increasingly divided world, that contagious courage is exactly the virus we need to spread.

In the comments, share one practical way you have or will look someone in the eyes. Let’s enCOURAGE each other!

This is Day 3 of a 7 Day Writing Challenge with Hope*Writers. Follow me on Instagram for more.

Cover image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

Thankful Thursday – Celebrate

Oh, friends, what a week!

Thursday to Thursday, I’m not sure there is any adequate way to sum it up, but let’s try this: joy, and grief, and joy… In all, celebrate.

One week ago we were in the final hours of the school year, during which both kids managed to drag out the drama and just about drive their mama over the edge. All is well, thank God, but all became well in those final hours. Sheesh!

Celebration commenced. Baccalaureate services and parties led to graduation and graduation parties. Teen graduated–hooray and hallelujah, amen! WOO HOO!

Honestly, I cried on and off (with greater and lesser degrees of humiliation) Wednesday-Thursday. Maybe I was cried out by Friday, but I made it through graduation tear-free. Perhaps it was the ear-to-ear smile Teen wore beginning to end. Or his willingness to at least quickly allow a hug or give me a quick peck on the cheek. I saw his happiness, his pride, his joy. It overflowed.

Imagine my surprise when, on the first day of “summer,” this late-sleeper woke up early and ready for yoga. When asked to choose my intention, the first word that popped to mind was “release,” which I immediately rejected: “release” held way too much possibility for full-on sob-fest! So I very carefully selected, “Celebrate.”

Yes. I can celebrate. Let’s celebrate: graduation, growth, summer, new adventures on the horizon, life lived and life ongoing.

This week we have joyfully celebrated graduations, and we have–with tremendous sadness and loss–celebrated lives well lived. Tucked between graduation parties, we attended a memorial service for an amazing man, a Navy Admiral, a gentleman who poured his life into his country, his family, his church, his business, and the Boy Scout troop in which each of his sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

The Troop in which my boys also participate: one has Eagled; another is on track. My boys attended the memorial service in Class A uniform, and each reported feeling impressed by the military salute (what American doesn’t bow low for a military gun salute?), the pastor’s heartfelt message, and their Scoutmaster Emeritus’s tribute to one of his best buddies, a friend of 30+ years. This man’s son and family have been our longtime dear friends. It was our honor to honor his life with them.

Monday we celebrated the first “school day” of summer, and the Bay Area whooped it up for the NBA win of our team, the Golden State Warriors. If you knew me in my SoCal life, this surprises you; but go on, be surprised at what raising two boys in the Bay Area can do for a mama’s respect for basketball!

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my beloved Mor-Mor’s (mother’s mother) heaven-home-going. I miss her like crazy; anyone who ever met her feels the same. When my dad was flying Pan Am jets and my dear mom was working, little Mor was it: on duty, making cookies, wooden-spooning naughty bottoms, keeping all of us–and friends–in line.

Yesterday, I read these verses in Proverbs (14:10, 13):
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.”

Grief and joy. They coexist in the heart. Sometimes we lean more fully to one or the other, while on occasion, they lean heavily together. Brene Brown wrote (coincidentally, of her own daughter’s recent high school graduation): “There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away. The sum of those two parts wells up inside you and holds your breath hostage until you let go of the notion that you can control the paradox and choose between joy and grief. Your breath returns only when you submit to the reality that you are caught in the grips of both delight and sorrow. Both are strong. Both are true.”

We celebrated Teen and his peers who have achieved a milestone in their yet-young lives. We celebrated the well-lived long lives of my friend’s dad and my grandma.

We celebrated the Warriors’ win. And last night we (belatedly) celebrated Tween’s 13th birthday and (early) celebrated Father’s Day with dinner and a movie [Wonder Woman, highly recommend!].

Life goes on. In each day, in daily life, we embrace emotional fullness: breath, movement, work, rest, feelings, enjoyment, mourning. Yesterday I felt like my sweet Mor-Mor moved through the day with me: through waking kids, work stuff, kid and family stuff, and family night out. I felt like she smiled down us, like she would have approved, if she could have been here to do so, that we ‘celebrated’ her departure by celebrating the lives we live in the moment.

Here’s to life, and to fully living in the moment all of this beautiful life that deserves celebrating!

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