I haven’t written much during this reign of coronavirus. Part of my brain has been operating on overdrive, so I think I tried to compensate by not thinking at all the rest of the time. Admittedly, perhaps it hasn’t been the best coping mechanism. Thinking back over the past two months, there are a number of things that stand out and I’m sure I’ll be pulling some of them into here at some point. Tonight, there’s something that’s been percolating in my mind for a few weeks, so we’re gonna roll with that.
I was on a Zoom call with a good friend recently and we were choosing from a list of questions and going back and forth with each other. One of the prompts was to take turns telling the other person something you considered a positive characteristic about them, for a total of five items each. Nothing that he said to me was surprising, and my guess is he would say the same about what I shared. What struck me, though, was after we finished that question, he looked at me and said, “I feel seen.”
Sight. Vision. Most of us take it for granted, and yet how often do we look without actually seeing? How much do we glance at the people around us without ever truly looking at them?
I remember the first time I saw my little sister as just my sister, without the “little” attached to it. We were in Utah and went outdoor rock climbing with a guide one day. The guide was keeping an eye on things as I belayed her, and she started her journey up the rock face. Partway up, the path got harder and a bit more technical. Now, my sister had minimal experience rock climbing prior to this, so her technical expertise was lacking, to say the least. She tried to make the next move and missing it, fell a foot or two as I held the rope taut. She tried again and once again, she missed. There was a small outcropping right where she was hanging, so she rested on that to take a break as she studied the rock wall. She tried a few more times, and missed the move every single time before she took a break on the outcropping again. That wasn’t the first climb she did that afternoon, and her arms must have been fatigued. Our guide expected her to give up and for me to belay her back down gently. I’d known her for 20 years, and heck, I expected her to give up. And yet, somehow she missed that memo. She stayed on that tiny ledge for a while before giving it another go. I can’t say how long I stood there, head craned upward, keeping that rope tight as she continued to fight for that next move. All I know is that she tried, tried, tried some more, and somehow, navigated the tricky spot and made her way up the entire rock wall to the top. She did it. Perhaps for the first time, I realized what a strong, stubborn, and formidable person my sister had become.
She had been there the whole time, and her identity didn’t shift in the course of one afternoon. But something happened to my vision that day which widened my perspective and helped me to see her more clearly, and perhaps, more fully.
Fast forward to the present. I’ve been taking a lot of walks on the beach lately, and I see a lot of people there by themselves. The other day, an older gentleman’s dog ran over to me. Pre-covid, I would have pet the dog in a heartbeat, but now I always ask permission. He seemed excited that I wanted to pet her – “usually people are scared of pit bulls,” he said to me with an unconcerned shrug – and we chatted for a minute or two. These little conversations – whether with the guy at the surf shop, the guy who always smokes outside the building, the barista at my favorite local coffee shop – have been happening a lot lately. Sure, part of it is absolutely all of us feeling the effects of over two months of a stay-at-home order and the decimation of our social lives by coronavirus.
It’s more than just that, though. People want to be seen. We want to be understood. We want people to look at us for who we are, to say our name, to know us. We want to be more than just a server, a barista, a counselor, a random guy on the beach. We crave that real connection, even for the briefest of moments. I believe coronavirus simply stripped away all our bravado and the faces we may put on for the world and laid it all out, bare. Laid us out, bare. I think it’s made many of us be more honest with ourselves and others, and that authenticity naturally forges connections, whether they be short or sustained.
We aren’t meant to be in isolation. We were made for community and connection, and that can’t take place without seeing those around us. Our friends, our family, our neighbors, yes – but the people we encounter in other spaces, too. By seeing those around us, we not only give them permission to do the same, but we also silently and often unknowingly encourage them to do so with others.
So to all of you out there: I see you. I see you, and I’m sorry for the days when I haven’t taken the time to take off the blinders of busyness. I’m grateful for this time to pause and remember what’s important to me. My hope is that as states start to open up and our lives slowly return piece by piece to what we used to know, we all continue to reflect on what matters to each of us and to keep that as our foundation, rather than an afterthought.
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside awakens.” (Carl Jung)