Tonight at a restaurant, I saw a young man (30ish) sitting at a table across from an older man. Could have been his dad; I don’t know. They spoke very little. The younger man sat facing my direction, just a few feet away, so I could see him clearly.
Something was wrong. When I glanced up and saw him, I recognized, connected deeply, with what he seemed to be feeling. I have felt it too, or at least something very similar to it. And I think I’ve had that exact same expression and posture while feeling it. He sat, seemingly paralyzed, with a look on his face of pain, shock, despair, confusion, hopelessness, hurt, or some combination of those. He did not move. Not even an eyelash. He appeared lost in some terribly unpleasant place, staring through his physical surroundings into nothing, or into something that only he could see. Maybe someone he loves just died. Maybe someone just broke his heart into a million pieces. Or maybe he is just completely overwhelmed with more responsibilities than he can possibly handle and is afraid to face tomorrow.
As soon as I saw him frozen there, I was frozen with him. I sat motionless, and stared at him, while he stared into space. I could not move or avert my gaze from him until he moved, or at least broke the stare-down he was having with something invisible, and returned to his dinner companion . . . Oh, what’s wrong poor fellow? I know whatever it is, it hurts so badly, and no one can make the hurt go away. I’m so sorry . . . Finally he kind of flinched and as he did he looked up and our eyes met for a split-second. I quickly looked away and tried not to look his way again.
Why did I look away the instant we connected? It was just a reflex? I didn’t want to invade his privacy, make him uncomfortable? Maybe all of that, but where did that reflex come from? What is it guarding against? Tonight as I was trying to fall asleep, it occurred to me that I should have held the eye contact just a little longer – not a long time, just long enough to admit that it wasn’t an accident and to give him a little smile. Maybe he would have felt my caring for him, just as I had felt his pain. What would be so wrong with that? Why must we all be strangers when really we are all part of the same fabric?