Last week I met a man who had difficulties with his hearing and his vision. I sat opposite him for two hours and then, all of a sudden, he turned his face to me and said ‘hello!’ as if he’d only just realised I was there. Since then I’ve been thinking about the gift we all have to give: the ability to notice others and to be noticed ourselves.
I’m sure you can tell me about times when you felt overlooked or unheard. Some years ago I had to resist the temptation to rap my knuckles on the desk and demand that the medical professional actually looked at me when I was speaking. Like a teacher. Other times, standing people have tremendous conversations above my head as I sit beneath their eye level. Like the children tugging on their adults’ sleeves saying ‘mummy, mummy, MUMMY’ when no-one seems to be heeding them.
So we can’t always get other people’s attention but we are in control of giving them ours. The man last week said the same thing at intervals over the day. It could have been a mental block, but I wonder if it was also because he is used to not being heard. At the end he put his hand on my arm to wish me all the best, and I made sure I was turned towards him. Everyone deserves that, no matter how uncomfortable they may make us.
(I’ll be honest, there are many occasions when I prefer to not be noticed, when hiding away feels like the most tempting option. At those times, it takes a lot of bravery on your part and a deal of kindness from those around you. It’s like crowd surfing. You are throwing yourself on the support of people around you. That may fail, but mostly it’s worth taking the risk.)
On the other side of things, it really doesn’t take much to lift your gaze towards someone. I have to confess that I stare away when I pass people who want to sell me something. But when I do that because they are in need in some way, shame on me. Do not be afraid of people who are different to you. There is one thing that they share with you: they want to be seen.
Today, as I sit by the lake, I’m getting my smile ready and keeping my eyes up. Because there will be someone who needs that.
There always is.