Long before it became a fashionable phrase, or a catchy new business technique, or even a spiffy scientific experiment, I heard my mother’s voice saying the words: “Listen to me with your eyes.”
It typically sounded very far away at first – working its way through thick pages of books, or floating over a great body of imagination; pulling me back from paper dolls, or Nancy Drew, or putting underpants and a bonnet on the dog and lifting him into the doll buggy.
“Now, listen to me … with your eyes.”
It meant: don’t just nod and say yes Mother. It meant: turn your attention fully to me and hear what I’m saying. It implied: this is important … and I’ll mean more than I say. She may have said simply: I’m leaving for the store now … but she meant: take care of each other, I’ll be back, I worry about you, I love you.
Like most mothers, I think, my mother knew that unless we turned our faces to her – focused our eyes on her face – we weren’t really listening. Not really. Not with our full minds and hearts. And, later on in our lives, perhaps we might never know how to listen with our humanity.
There are vivid flashes of moments listening with my eyes that seem to always stay with me, tucked not far away; sometimes they surge into my mind on waves of fresh experience as if they had happened only that morning. Perhaps they did.
There is one held forever within the cold damp concrete of a hospital parking garage; a man is walking by himself, tears just under the surface of his face; his shoulders bend forward, a woman’s soft yellow sweater is folded carefully over his left forearm, her purse in his hand.
There are others. A dog pulls a felt blanket out from under a small decorative Christmas tree to make himself a bed against the cold. An old woman watches the cash register total at a grocery store, putting back some of the food. A young woman, alone, pushes through crowds of Christmas shoppers creating a sort of smile on her lips that never reaches her eyes, her arms empty of packages, her coat new and barely worn, her eyes tragic. Children holding hands to cross a street. Young men waiting on a bench. Military combat veterans weeping into the necks of horses. Horses running up to a fence searching faces – searching for a particular face. A cat creeping through a strange gate and into the corner of a warm house, as if she didn’t care, but clearly does. Little girls in old coats sharing cookies. Old women in old coats sharing laughter. Men of every age and color and circumstance singing together in harmony.
Perhaps my mother understood the deeper significance behind her words – listen to me with your eyes. It didn’t just assure that we were listening, it let us learn to truly hear one another. Because when we listen with our eyes, we hear each other’s authentic hearts and silent stories. And then something happens to the spaces between us.
This Christmas season, I hope you witness the abundance of possibilities all around and near you. Perhaps you will listen for them and to them. Perhaps you will listen to them with your eyes.