Eye Contact

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Waiting to be able to cross the street tonight after work, a thought came to me. Looking into the eyes of the people driving past, I saw one after the other avoiding eye contact, either very purposefully or with total obliviousness.  I waited until every car had passed before crossing. And the thought went something like this: it is only those few who do make eye contact who stop and let you walk across the street. Duh, right? But have you ever, while driving, made eye contact with someone waiting to cross, just after it’s too late for you to stop and let them? Makes you feel like kind of a douche bag right? Hang with me on this one…

When we make eye contact, something happens. I think I’d call it empathy. Our common humanity comes to the surface. ‘Oh yeah, that’s another human, like me!’ But hey, what’s the big deal really? No biggie if someone has to wait to cross the street.

Tonight I made eye contact with two beautiful young Afghan women. After making it across the street to my car, I drove to Curry College where I met with ONE Curry and we made our first video chat connection with Jeena and Beena who currently live in an orphanage in Pakistan and who will be the first recipients of a scholarship to attend medical school that will be fundraised by Help Women Heal. Talking to Jeena and Beena tonight was simply incredible. I am still overwhelmed by it. They woke up at 5AM to be able to chat with us before starting their seven hour school day!

Fortunately, they are able to squeeze a little fun time in between studying. When one member of ONE Curry asked them if they know Lady Gaga, the two women responded, “Of course! Who doesn’t know her???”.

I’ve been a Director for Help Women Heal since April now and I have always felt impassioned by this cause, knowing that it is women who must be empowered across the globe to heal our world. And although I have been fully aware of the impact we can have, it wasn’t until tonight that I have been able to fully realize, “Oh yeah, that’s another human, like me!” There is some deep wiring that suddenly finds itself connected. Here are two young people just like me, who just happen to have been born elsewhere – in a country where they can be abused, neglected, ignored, oppressed and even murdered simply because of their gender. We share a common dream of a better world, but it is they who bear the scars and they who bear the grunt of the work. They have dreamed of becoming doctors, not so they can leave their country and live in abundance, but instead so they can return to their country; so they can heal their country. They give us all so much hope. And I am so thankful that we are able to do the same for them. Even in spite of our country’s devastating strategy in Afghanistan, they have this to say, “American people are one of the most generous and loving and warm people in the world.”

Amidst the fear, the hate, the violence that is so prevalent both within and outside our borders, we all need that hope. It’s so easy to drive on, avoiding any eye contact. Maybe we just don’t know about those people ‘over there’ or maybe we don’t want to know. But they are there. I assure you. And after making eye contact, it is much harder to hold on to this notion that we are different. We aren’t. If only we can all pause, make eye contact, and really see people. It is only the first step, perhaps, but it is a major one.



Author: John Abdulla

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  1. This is very true. I love the pictures and how you expressed people and how they avoid eye contact. I think everyone becomes numb to everyone after awhile and as you said it’s sad but they think of it being as “those people over there.”
    It makes me think of the movie, Crash. There is a beautiful quote in the movie that sums it up quite nicely. “It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”

  2. Cassandra, that is such a great connection. And a great quote from Crash. So true!

  3. John, this is a great post. I grew up not making eye contact with people I didn’t already know – they were “strangers,” and who knew what that would lead to. It wasn’t even an explicit lesson from my parents – it was more just cultural. I carried this with me through my mid-30s. And then one day, I was just walking right by someone in my neighborhood on my way to the subway. After I passed, she called out, “And Good Morning to YOU!” I was really startled, turned back, and stammered out a hello. And finally thought, what’s the problem with greeting people you don’t already know? As in, acknowledging that they exist, to start with? So this did change me.

  4. What a great story David! Thanks for sharing. There is so much power in that acknowledgement of another person. Ubuntu at work!

  5. John this is amazing. This heartfelt story warmed me up on this cold blizzard morning.

    When’s the next get together/ one curry event? I want to make time to come down.

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