One day I will not be as quick to figure the tip in a restaurant. One day it will take you more time to cross the street than the pedestrian signal allows. One day I will fall asleep in a chair in the middle of a family gathering, mouth wide open, snoring. One day no one will ask us what we want to do but tell us what we should be doing. One day they will make fun of your clothes and comfortable shoes. One day I will smell funny. One day, someone else will decide where you live. One day we will wait for visitors.
In other cultures, older adults are respected for their wisdom. In our culture, we tend to ignore them as they age, not see them. Maybe they scare us. Maybe they remind us that we will be old and hard of hearing and move slowly one day. Maybe we just don’t want to go to that place in our minds. It is inevitable.
One day we will be invisible or maybe even forgotten sometimes.
Invisibility. This idea keeps showing up.
When homeless people talk about their experiences, they attribute some of their pain to becoming invisible to other human beings. Vietnam veteran’s talk about the pain of being forgotten. Troubled and abused children talk about being invisible to the adults around them.
I remember one severely obese person describe how, because of the way she looked, no one would make eye contact with her. They would look past her. Maneuver around her and go out of their way so as not to have to make eye contact.
We’ve all done it. We probably do it hundreds of times each day. You kind of blur your vision, turn off the focus as you look in the direction of someone you really don’t want to see. Why? Does eye contact have power? What happens when we connect with someone else’s eyes?
Not making eye contact certainly seems to have power. Maybe not on one or two instances with people we don’t know, but judging from the emotions it stirs from on going “invisibility”, it seems to have the power to send people into depression and lonliness. But why? What happens when two human beings make eye contact? Is there information that is exchanged in that instant, a split second? And if we withhold eye contact, we seem to be withholding something important. So the information exchanged through eye contact must be important. It must contain something fundamentally human.
Researchers who study infant development stress the importance of eye contact between baby and mother. Meeting a baby’s gaze, and if you have experienced this you know, is magical. Something happens. It may be a smile. You may hold his gaze for a while. Some kind of information is being exchanged. Eye contact is essential for a connection between mother and baby. Without it, the baby’s development is affected.
So eye contact seems to be some kind of human need. Does it have something to do with energy…or information? Is there a biochemistry to eye contact?
And if it is essential to human health and well being, why do we withhold it from other human beings? If we are all at risk of being invisible one day, can we make a decision to give it more freely?.. And teach our children to do the same.