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I sat in the airport food court staring down at a paper plate of fried rice with vegetables and a meatless eggroll. I had eaten dinner once already, but it consisted of just salad and soup. And that was almost four hours ago. When I checked the Arrival board and realized I had a few extra minutes before my sister-in-law and niece landed, I decided to go for round two. I was hungry.

Few people lingered in the airport at that time of the evening. A young boy, maybe 10, sat alone at a nearby table, and I wondered about him traveling solo at his age. But shortly, a man and woman joined him carrying trays of food. Another woman in a business suit sat at a raised counter, talking on the phone. Every few minutes, a large crowd would rush from behind the security checkpoint and head through the public area toward baggage claim.

The Asian carry-out restaurant where I had purchased my food boasted more sushi than hot dishes, but I was relieved they had at least the staples a vegetarian could eat. Actually, I’m a vegan, but I chose not to think about the “egg” in egg roll. At least not this time.

As I arranged my purse next to my feet and the napkin beside my plate, I noticed that several members of the janitorial staff had descended into the eating area, cleaning tables and sweeping floors. I opened a soy sauce packet and watched the brown liquid squirt across the table. One of the women working close to my table also noticed the spill. More work for me, I imagined her thinking.

I caught her eye.

“How are you this evening?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m doing fine,” she said, surprised I had spoken. “How are you?”

“I’m excited to see my family,” I offered, trying to forget about the soy sauce. “They arrive in a few minutes.”

“Oh, I bet you are excited,” she said, her yellow uniform standing out brightly in the sparse crowd of the airport.

“Is your table ok for you this evening?” she asked. I thought again of the sauce next to my plate. I’ll clean it up, I wanted to say. Instead, I responded, “Oh yeah, it’s great.

“Well, enjoy your family,” she said, turning to leave.

“You have a good evening, too,” I told her.

As she walked away, I soaked up the spilled soy sauce with my extra napkin.

*****

The middle-aged man with the wild hair at Starbucks who settles in like this is his office.

The older man in the hat eating alone at Pizza Hut.

The elderly woman at Kohls picking out a sweater with her friend.

The talkative gentleman who works at the recycling center so his diabetic wife can have insurance.

The busy woman working at the changing room desk at Wal-Mart as my step-son tries on pants.

I make space for them. I talk to them. I think of them when they are gone.

But did I see them?

*****

“Your eyes look tired,” I told a friend in passing the other day. We were both on our way someplace else, but we had stopped to exchange pleasantries.

“Well, I don’t sleep at night,” she told me. I noticed her black eyeliner, smeared just a little too far from the corner. I couldn’t stop looking at her eyes.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“A lot of stress,” she started to say, but then stopped. “Well, you heard I was robbed, didn’t you?”

“No, I didn’t.” I felt a thud in my gut.

I asked her for the details; she told me about the investigation, the possibility of two suspects, and the men she sees every night in her dreams rifling through her drawers in the bedroom. If she sleeps at all, it’s usually because she has fallen asleep on the couch.

I didn’t know, I wanted to tell her again, thinking back over the past few weeks to the things I may have said that hurt her. I didn’t know, I thought, defending myself for the times when I was impatient or unkind.

I don’t know a lot of things, I realized, as I walked away, passing other people with eyes that look tired.

*****
Today, I am writing collaboratively with the members of my local writing group, Plume. At a recent meeting, we were talking about those moments when you look in someone’s eyes and really see them . . . or not. A stranger, a friend, a child, a lover . . . their eyes tells stories that only  your soul can understand. Miss their eyes and you may miss a moment of transcendence.

Jesus said, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness.”

Today, we seek light.

Other Posts in the Eye to Eye Collection from Plume:

Photo by Ali Smiles 🙂, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.

  • Dolly@Soulstops ,

    Charity,
    I like how you stopped and talked to a cleaning lady, and how you took the time to look into your friend’s eyes, stop, answer and listen to her speak…what a gift you gave them…the gift of caring, noticing and compassion 🙂

    • Diana Trautwein ,

      This is very, very cool. How many contributed to this lovely collection of reflections, Charity? It reads like three people. Or are these three of your own and the others are writing in their space?

      • Amber ,

        It is so hard to see the familiar with new eyes. The take on seeing a friend “eye to eye” never would have occurred to me. I like that you took the time even with familiar relationships.

        • Ashly Stage ,

          I could see and smell and touch all of these people you mentioned. Even in the sentence-long descriptions of people you have passed and noticed, I felt like I was seeing them for the first time-except their my versions of people I see everyday, but don’t see. This piece was pointed and powerful, but the weight isn’t crushing or unbearable, just a nice reminder of the importance of seeing. Thank you for sharing!

          • Eye to Eye | DropLeaf Communications ,

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            • Darcy Wiley ,

              So interesting what you noticed by looking your friend directly in the eye that you hadn’t noticed in other interactions, either in person or on social media (assuming she’s online). You could literally see there was something going on, no psychic abilities necessary. 😉 I love how this assignment has opened us up to the people around, whether friends or strangers. Engaging the cleaning person in conversation bridges between the one serving and the one being served, granting honor instead of taking their work for granted.