It was such a wonderful evening.
This is what I want to tell you. There is a kind of attention that is not bad-breathed or oppressive, not angry or amused or derogatory.
One day when I was young, which is about eight or nine or ten, I pretended that I had fallen into a frozen creek. In reality, I was walking on the thick, thick white ice, and I sort of purposefully slid myself into the bitterly cold water. And then I flailed. Ahhhh ahhhh, and all that.
It was for attention.
I fell into the creek one winter evening, and then walked home with jeans that were soaked with icy water, shoes sloshing with it, small icicles forming on the frayed edges. I’m pretty sure it didn’t work. I got in the tub, and I don’t think I even got a cold. So much for pneumonia which would have everyone crying by my bedside.
There are many ways to look for eye contact. You can steal cars or magazines. You can start a band. You can write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. You can work for a car dealership and sell fancy cars. You can smoke behind the shed, you can hurt yourself, starve yourself or set things on fire. You can be mean or provoke abuse. You can sleep with people or make funny jokes about how you’re sort of an idiot.
Some of these things will get you good attention, admiring attention, and sometimes even money. (Money is its own kind of attention, and with money you can pay for attention.) Some will get you nothing but hurt and aching insides, some will get you a slap on the face or a jail sentence.
But there is a gaze which is as gentle as the wings of a butterfly, and that is what I found, once I had finally stopped stealing magazines, going through trashcans, and making jokes about how I was sort of an idiot. There is breath that is sweeter than magnolia avenues, softer than wind kisses from the seashore. There is a kind of attention which you don’t even draw to yourself. This is what I found. It was there in the beginning.
Imagine yourself standing on a wooden floor, with beams all crisscrossed with light because of the bright open window and dust motes floating like tiny golden people. You are barefoot and the air is warm and smells like old wood and plants. Green things. You are old and sad, but you are standing here still, singing an old hymn, maybe an old spiritual about Jesus. And then there he is, and he leans towards you, puts one of each of his warm and strong hands on either side of your face, and looks into your eyes. I can tell you from experience that what you see in his eyes will not make you blush, or run away, or shake your head, saying ‘Stupid stupid stupid, what did you expect?’
You may begin to cry.
Have you ever played that trust game where you fall back into someone’s arms? Dumb game. How are you supposed to fall? Like a block of wood? Everyone knows that humans are not made of wood. When we fall, we fall like a bird, plummeting to the ground. There is a heart beating in there, after all.
I needed someone to tell me that I didn’t have to justify my existance, to be so spectacular that it would be okay that I was here. I needed someone to be sad that I was dying. To let me know that I would be missed, or that I wasn’t just taking up space.
To say “I made you because I like your shape and the patterns you make in the air around you. I like the air that comes off of you. I like your voice when you start to sing and you haven’t talked in a while, so it is all rusty and pleghmy, and then you get embarrassed and quietly clear your throat and start over.” There are many ways of praying, some are just acknowledging that someone made you, that there are feet that you can bow before, and let that love roll over you. This is what it means to be a created being, to be in the presence of someone so good that it fills all the spaces inside of you. You may feel like running, but it would be to your benefit if you stayed.
You stand barely breathing, with your feet on that wooden floor, and he is still looking at you, and you realize your clothes are wet from falling in the creek, and for the first time in your whole life you feel like someone is really, really paying attention.