Awkward Glances

I’m walking down the path of my apartment on my way to school. Across from me is a male student. He’s doing nothing, really. Just on his phone, on his way home (presumably). I look down for a bit, feeling slightly awkward about making eye contact. My eyes go up and almost immediately, he repeats my shy gaze down. Immediately, it brings to mind all these other occurrences in which similar things happen, with men and women alike. It seems that it’s been integrated into people that we really just shouldn’t look at each other. I wonder what it is we all fear will happen if we do just happen to look at someone’s face. We won’t magically combust, nor will all our secrets be laid out on the table for them to see.

In a way it is somewhat of an intimate act though, right? It’s a connection you build with whatever person that was, however briefly. We learn a little bit about the person, if not make something up from whatever character trait we may (or may not) have glimpsed at.  We see how their day has been up to that point. Honestly, I really like to have those brief connections. I feel it’s something we need to keep us sane as people. I mean, think about it. What comes from those brief interactions? Awkwardness, sure, but then there are those little smiles when we see how ridiculous it is. It’s an ‘I see you.  I may not know you, but I know you exist’ moments.  It’s a beautiful moment. Even if we might not actually think about how much those connections affect us, it happens.

Still, there are a lot of times when I purposely look down because I cannot bear to make that contact. I don’t want to draw unwanted attention; I want to be invisible. It stems from many different things.  I think sometime’s we’re just conditioned to believe that everyone out there is out to get us, in some form or another. If you look up, if you make eye contact or even look like you’re eyeing someone, you’re asking for trouble.  And it may be true. I know there’s been times when, if I’m in a ‘bad’ part of town, taking the subway at night, or really in a situation where I know or feel I’m not completely safe, I will keep my gaze down. For instance, the times I’ve been in  NYC subways I usually have something on me to occupy my time and attention for the duration of the ride, be it my phone or a book. I do have a habit of observing people, and not everyone is so comfortable with that. You never know when someone will react badly to these things. Really though, it’s a different situation for everyone depending on the time and place.  One of my professors told me he loved taking the NYC subways and socializing with random passengers.  Of course, as someone with a different personality and life experiences (and a woman, to boot) I was taught differently than he. I’m to be more alert and keep to myself. (Boring, huh?)

Days when I step out of these comfort zones I’ve created, I like to look at people and smile.  I think this especially happens on good days, and on days when I realize, as in this post, that I have begun walking with my eyes cast down again. There is nothing shameful in connecting with people. I make it a point to look at a person squarely in the face (without getting too up-close-and-personal, of course) and, when I see them glancing up at me, smiling brightly. If I do see them smiling back at me, no matter how small and insignificant the moment is, I feel that I might have made their day a little happier by allowing them to abandon all else and smile for a minute.

How nice would it be to bring some light into someone’s day?  I say we should all go out and do this towards at least one other person. It doesn’t matter if we do or don’t know the effect we’ve had on these individuals (or if we actually know them or not, for that matter).  Who knows, maybe it can start a chain and they’ve all started smiling at other people. It’s a nice thought, yeah? 🙂

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