I had a dream last night. In the dream I went to a restaurant on a pier in a different city than the one I live. I passed an old fellow walking by me and we made eye contact.
He found me later and sat across from me at a table and he asked me questions about who I was, where I came from and where I was going. He did the strangest thing throughout the conversation—he looked me in the eyes. At first I didn’t know how to look back at him, it felt so foreign, so unrushed, and so different. But by the time he shook my hand and wished me good luck and walked away as mysteriously as he came, I realized I was starving for this kind of interaction.
Eyes. Something we don’t see near as much, perhaps we make less eye contact than any time in history.
Even in a dream state, I felt ‘seen’ and remembered how to ‘see’ someone else. This stranger across from me was a worn, unsightly fellow yet through the course of a conversation became a radiantly incomparable kind soul.
Perhaps it’s still true—the eyes are windows to the soul. Perhaps kindness and interest and compassion and many other emotions can be transferred through looking into another’s eyes and communicating worth. Maybe we are not a food hungry country but maybe we are a face hungry country.
I don’t want to get used to the feeling of holding and checking and looking at my phone while having a conversation with one of my boys, or husband, or friend, or stranger. When did it become so okay to be so un-present?
It took a dream of all things to wake me up, to remember what face time and conversation—undivided attention—felt like. Ironic. I woke up hungry and aware of my foibles.
No one else is going to teach my kids etiquette when it comes to eye contact and conversation. If I omit the human action of undivided attention, then it follows that my kids will most likely omit undivided attention from their relationships and perhaps their kids one day.
Wake-up. This stranger on the pier seemed to say with his actions, wake-up. What do you hold dear? If it is conversation—with family or friends or strangers—attributing worth through eye contact, well then do it. Put the phone down, away if need be, and be deliberate with what you hold dear. Fight for what you hold dear internally and externally. Don’t wish for a time when you didn’t have to decide because there was no such thing as a device in your hand that held your life. Hold your life in your hands and decide what you are going to do with a device that is put-away-able. Decide and then keep deciding. Don’t blindly start and continue hiding behind it. Practice and decide, teach your kids that they have a choice as well, that they can disconnect for various lengths of time and connect with the human face. They won’t be missing anything, they will be gaining the ultimate and increasingly rare gift—being present and showing worth to the person you are with. You will be gaining this gift too, and it will fill your starving soul with what it needs to stay connected. Then you can give the gift away and offer what the stranger in the dream offered you.
Sustaining power of eye contact for a starving society. I think we are going to get more and more hungry and we will need—strangers who remind us, even if in our dreams, to wake us up and feel the longing to see and be seen, to stop and ask questions, to connect; device not included.