On Being Seen

eye-see-malcolm-b-smith

Don’t look away.

At the coffee shop, after serving an assembly-line of customers their coffee-crack, each falling in line, decaffeinated, our hands exchanging paper-cup-currency — I looked up from the cash drawer to see an unknown face. He was standing there, looking at me.Β  No, staring. — And, not at the frames of my glasses or at my little, silver pendant-necklace. At me. This stranger’s eyes, with tiny black pupils, bore little holes right. into. mine.

This look. — It wasn’t creepy. It wasn’t romantic or sensual. It wasn’t inappropriate or uncalled for — it just was. He was unabashed. Eyes set. Dead-on-straight-on-spot-on. A portal into me. Into my soul. Perfectly still. Seeing me.

And, in an odd act of defiance, I fought the intense urge to immediately sever this strange bond.

Don’t look away. Don’t look away. Don’t look away.

I held his gaze. I let it happen — even though it was terrifying and strange. And, when he finally broke away, he sat down at an empty table with his lap-top and his coconut doughnut and his medium cup of coffee, and he got on with it. — His day. His moment. — He was unaffected by having seen me.

But me? I stood there undone. Feeling naked in the middle of the shop. It occurred to me that this guy sees people all the time. He is decidedly unafraid. He knows where to look and he is un-phased by our contents. He see us, and then — he returns to his doughnut. That’s who he is.

It made me wonder — what was I so afraid he might discover? Why I had been so uncomfortable?

I thought about how I’ve felt recently. — Withdrawn. Disinterested. Tired. Sad. — In my various states of dissatisfaction, I’d rather fade into the woodwork than be seen. The feeling reminds me of early sobriety. Hiding in plain sight. — I didn’t want you to see me int that state. — Vulnerable. Beaten. Broken. Alone.

With years clean, I still look for places to hide. Avoiding help, even when I could really use some. — There’s something to that admission. Something about other people knowing you’re not OK. — It’s hard to let yourself be seen in that way.

But, this guy — this customer — he just took it. He looked in and saw my sadness and my fear and my defeat, and then — he ate his doughnut.

In doing so, he brought me back to myself. He humbled and surprised me. He reminded me that I’m not as wretched as I sometimes think myself to be. And, in recognizing this, I was able to locate some compassion. In the women’s room mirror, I met my own reflection.

Vulnerable, beaten, broken, alone. — But, still here.

And, I’m seeing her.

Don’t look away. Don’t look away. Don’t look away.

 

 

Artwork: Malcom B. Smith; “Eye See.” http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/malcolm-b-smith.html

 

 

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