Eye to Eye

April 19, 2012

I have this game I play whenever I go for a run.  It’s called “Making Eye Contact” and the goal of the game is very simple: Make eye contact with every person who crosses my path.

My husband Bob is a master at this game, probably because he is the friendliest person I have ever come across.  He’ll not only make eye contact with total strangers, but even wave at them or strike up aconversation.

I think he might be a robot.

Friendliness isn’t my problem.  Fear of vulnerability has always been my achilles heel.

I am excellent at making eye contact with people I know well.  I am so good at this that once, when I was prepping for a very important interview during my senior year in high school, my advisor who was coaching me, told me to avoid making such direct eye contact.  That it was intimidating.  Unnerving.  Made him uncomfortable.

This, of course, I took as praise.  I enjoy standing my ground.  Showing off my fight.  Making it clear that this chick is not to be tussled with.

Making friendly eye contact with strangers is not usually considered to be a gesture of ones feistiness.

Last time I checked, I teach yoga for a living.  Creating a safe space and meaningful, healthy relationships with strangers is something I do every day.

Yoga is really what inspired this game.  The idea of creating a friendly connection through a nod or a wave or a smile on the bike path, is a powerful one to me.  Even if it’s a brief moment of shared warmth, the impact such an exchange can have on my day is immeasurable.

We avoid making ourselves appear or even feel vulnerable for a variety of reasons.  I don’t think I need to explain any of those reasons.  We all have our own.  We all know them.

But choosing to allow a little vulnerability, a little opening for connection with someone you might never cross paths with again, is an opportunity to shift the blockades we put around ourselves in public in service of a more trusting community.

Are there dangers in this game?  Sure.  Being a woman who stands 5’2 on a tall day and appears fairly unassuming, I know I have to be careful, too.  This is also why I don’t go jogging at night or in unfamiliar places.  This is why we have a dog with a fairly intimidating bark and a tendency to lunge, teeth barred at strangers.

And not everyone will smile or nod or wave back to you.  In my informal, non-scientific information gathering process over the past 6 months or so, I tend to get a 50/50 response.  About 50% acknowledge me and connect in some way; about 50% pretend they exist entirely alone in a post-apocalyptic world in which they have the entire creek path to themselves.  I look at them anyway.  Nod, despite the lack of response.  Maybe they realize the connection after we pass.  Maybe they smile, too.

Because you never know who you’ll lock eyes with.

Today when I was running, I was about a mile from home and as I jogged down a hill, I saw a woman with the teeniest baby walking in my direction.  Cooing at her child, shading the baby from the hot sun.  As I got closer, I met her eyes, smiled and she returned my smile.

After I passed her, I realized she was a former student.  One who had stopped coming to class maybe a year ago after telling me she’d been struggling with fertility issues, trying to get pregnant and very much wanting a child.

It took me a full block to recognize her totally out of context, to put the pieces of the story together and to see her, months later, a blissful mom.

I have no idea if she recognized me out of the studio, off the mat in a very surprising place.  It doesn’t really matter.

The brief connection we shared, one bright and friendly smile, is all I honestly needed to be reminded that we live in a small world, indeed.  That love is universal.

A smile can reaffirm your faith in humanity.

A brief glance, a nod, a moment of warmth exchanged can change everything.

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