Sunday, January 20

Look into My Eyes

I learned that I was supposed to look into people's eyes when I was a teenager. Someone, somewhere, mentioned in passing that looking at people shows respect, intimacy, care, and love. Short introspection revealed that I rarely looked at people when I talked with them, and it was around that time that I wanted to show care and love to people... so I began looking into their eyes.

Whoever clued me in to gazing into the windows of the soul didn't explain exceptions to the rule that apply to people I don't know well, people who have low self-esteem, or the vast majority of humanity - people who are only comfortable with a maximum of about 85% eye contact without beginning to squirm... Those nuances took another decade to learn.

Social nuance aside, I feel like there is something almost holy about looking into someone's eyes. Maybe it's because the other person has to be looking back at me... into my own eyes. Maybe it's because it's in those moments - looking at someone honestly and without judgment - that God teaches me who they are and I can feel His love for them. Maybe it's because the connection there is different from anything else. It's an intimacy that doesn't need physical or social or even emotional contact. Or maybe it's because it doesn't happen very often.

In today's culture, we don't really make a lot of eye contact with others. We talk on the phone, hold meetings via email or text... and even in the "next best thing" - videoconferencing - the camera location keeps people from making eye contact. The camera would have to be embedded behind the eyes of the person I'm talking to... and that doesn't happen. Even in one-on-one conversations, we look away at the ten thousand distractions that modern society offers... instead of simply watching, looking, listening with our eyes and our hearts. Looking at my date, or even a total stranger, too intensely can belie deep interest at best, "creepiness" at worst (and of any epithet, "creep" is in my determination the worst that can be applied to me. That, and "liar"). I catch someone's eyes, and the immediate impulse seems to be to turn away... as if society has ruled that eyes can never meet.

I'm pretty sure that optical avoidance is a learned skill. Adults and teenagers squirm, but babies are willing to lock eyes with me forever. Smile, laugh, look away for a few seconds, chatter, but still turn and look again. I can be in a kitchen surrounded by noise and commotion, twelve inches away from my newest cousin, looking into her eyes, watching her, and she just looks back.

And then there's the temple. Somehow in the temple the norms of society lose their vice grip on mortality. The precepts the world teaches don't reach as deeply. And when all those factors are put together, working at the temple gives me the chance to stand two feet from a guy, one-on-one, look into his eyes... and he looks back at me. There's no question about intention - we're supposed to be looking at each other, and we're in the temple. And we both know the eye contact will last at most 15 seconds. But 15 seconds and I feel my need to connect with guys being filled... without words or touch or emotional interchange.

It's ironic that, in those short, structured moments, I feel a connection deeper than seems possible and that evades me in my everyday.

The eyes are the windows to the soul, right? I go through life wishing I could make real connections with the people around me. I do everything I can to break down barriers and transcend the arbitrary norms that upgrade my social difficulty into impossibility. It's fitting that the one place it always happens is in the temple.

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