Posted by Linda
Many people spend a lot of time searching how to be good parents, spouses, neighbors, friends. The underlying issue seems to me to be “How to Love.” There must be a thousand books on the subject: extensive religious texts, philosophical treatises, and psychological dissertations have delved the meaning of love. Almost all great fiction has explored in some way the enigma and complexity of love.
We also have the potato chips of love advice: self-help books. Loving For Dummies hasn’t come out yet, but may. Some such are really “helpful.”
Lots of the counsel on how to love requires study, complex acts, lots of time, and even money. “Isn’t love worth it?” “Of course it is.” A lifetime learning to love deeply is well spent–I’d say perfectly spent. But sometimes loving someone in ways that work feels as frustrating and beyond reach as touching a star with your fingertips. Other times it happens in the blink of an eye.
I mean that literally.
Years ago I read from the writings of developmental psychologist Rene Piaget. One of his ideas that impacted me was the importance of eye contact between parents and their babies. (In my words) he said we drink in who we are through our parents’ eyes. He was referring to infancy; but I think it is also true for children of any age and moreover for our mates and friends, for strangers, and even for our “enemies.”
When we make eye contact with someone, our eyes send a feeling and message. That person reads the message and takes it in. It may be a dozen things: “She likes me,” “He loves me,” “He is afraid of me, or “She is not interested in me.” The translation becomes a message about who I am. I am likable, lovable, powerful, worthless. Very wounded people may block or misread the message. Very aware people may recognize and evaluate the message. Most eye contact language is below the radar and builds the concept of “who I am” subterraneanly. Eye contact is power. That makes it a responsibility. That makes it a choice. And that makes it an opportunity to love: a simple way, always at hand, time-friendly, free.
I like Piaget’s concept because it shows us we can impart love just by being aware that our eyes will reflect who we think the other is. What if we don’t feel love for the other, but feel indifferent or repelled, or afraid. Regrettably, there are people so disturbed that they may read even eye contact as a challenge. Healing takes time and patience and presence. Such exceptions do not describe most encounters.
More at risk are our daily encounters with family and friends. It becomes awfully easy not to look at each other often, except as almost “business” meetings. In Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, the character Emily has died and is allowed to return to one day in her life to observe. She chooses her 16th birthday and finds herself in the kitchen watching herself have breakfast as her mother bustles about doing chores and cautioning her to eat slowly. Though no one can hear or see her, she cries out, “Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me.”
It’s probably the most quoted line in the play, because we all can relate to it. We know Piaget is right. The eyes have it.
How good it is to enjoy the riches of meeting and resting in each other’s eyes. We can practice every day looking for the beauty in each other and reflecting it back as often as humanly possible. Laughing at a good joke together almost always involves happy glances into each other’s eyes. So does love. And there, love quickens to beauty, and vulnerability, and tenderness. Love could become our almost permanent message if we focus, just for a bit, on each other.