I've always been pretty oblivious of other people when I'm out in public. There are so many times where I can recall being out at the mall or somewhere with friends and having them say stuff like (for example!), "Hey, did you see that guy who was checking you out?"
And my response was always, "Guy?"
Because if there was any guy around, I sure didn't notice him.
I did some things this past weekend that were outside of my comfort zone. And one of those was looking people in the eyes. Holding their gaze. Sometimes, it hurt to do it because there is so much to see. And because I was perhaps afraid of what they were seeing. But then, it started to feel (mostly) natural.
Today, without making a conscious effort, without even thinking about it, I looked my bus driver in the eyes and said, "Thank you" as I got off the bus. I don't do this ever. In fact, I often choose to exit from the rear doors because the idea of having to look at the bus driver makes me panic. At the same time, the idea of ignoring the bus driver makes me feel rude. When I do have to exit from the front, I'll often look past the driver or maybe watch the floor as I mumble, "Thanks." Then I step off as quickly as possible.
And so, every time I ride the bus, I experience a minimum of thirty seconds of anxiety. Not today, though. It was freeing in an unexpected way.
After that, as I walked through the bus tunnel and up the street to my office, I looked people in the eyes. The homeless woman who is always standing in that same place. The other downtown workers headed my way to get to their own offices. For some, it was only a quick look. For others, we held the gaze until we were passing each other.
By the time I'd made it those few blocks, I'd seen into dozens of pairs of eyes.
There were tears in mine.
For the first time in my life, I saw people.