One of my adopted daughters struggles with attachment issues. More than one daughter does actually, but this one more acutely. My wife, bless her, is in the trenches with all our adopted children, 24/7, dealing with post-traumatic abnormalities. This particular daughter has us both shrugging our shoulders and asking, seeking, and knocking for wisdom and insight. “How can we aide in the restoration of this little heart?” Sometimes it’s as though hope is in our back pocket and we sit and wonder where we left it.
There are days when I arrive home to find my wife mentally writhing over the interactions of this adorable child. I mean, to look at her, she seems like the essence of childhood innocence and playfulness. But any given evening, the monologue squeaks from momma to me like letting the air out of a balloon while stretching the exit hole. Mom is emotionally spent and frustrated that this one isn’t “getting it”. I usually have nothing to add but listening ears and an apology that momma had yet another tough day.
But then I remember something that has happened more than once. Sometimes Barbara (My wife and mother to little miss unattached) was graced yet again to proceed through angst to compassion with softer words and eye-contact. It was a brown on brown stare down, and through eyes of love that would water a seven-year-old dehydration. The tide would come in and behind it we would wonder if the salt water would preserve a precious heart, both hers and her mother’s. I too, have in the past, made eye contact and with similar results. “Tears are what lubricate the soul” is an oft repeated phrase. Yet, I wonder if this child’s tears can roll far enough to reach her broken soul. With whispers to her mother self, Barbara hopes and prays those drops go the distance.
The concept of eye-contact is cataract covered in our world today. We look at screens more than we should. “Reality T.V.” sometimes convinces us that we know intimacy because we make eye to pixel contact, when the in-to-me-see sitting next to us rarely gets a wink. Images from hunger torn regions of the planet telescope children staring through the lens to us as we sit eating popcorn. There just isn’t enough pixel resolution to clone the real thing.
And that’s the thing. Personally, I have never been that good at eye-contact. I often get caught counting freckles. Lips, quivering like earth worms on asphalt after a hard rain, would sway my attention. Barbara and I will sometimes talk to each other while staring at each others forehead. It’s a personal joke. An old friend who seemed to never look us eye to eye, would aim his eyes at the center of our forehead as if we had a third eye.
My Barbara has taught me the importance of making eye-contact. With our busy, A.D.D. atmosphere which is our home, she often stops me short in the fray…”eye-contact!” Even when I leave for work and run my finger down her lifeline as she sleeps, she will wake enough to smile and connect our black dots.
There have been poignant moments of connection in with relation to this human element. One was when a man named Mike DeVroo (name not changed to honor his life) offered me the elements for communion. His eyes were Paul Newman blue, arresting, and in the moment I felt as if Jesus looked through my eyes and down into my spirit. That moment I felt as though I got a peek at what the disciples might have experienced at the last supper.
Another moment was when I recently asked my mother a probing question into her brown-black holes. She was slowing down and personal freedoms had been evaporating over the last couple of years. Her short term memory was becoming just a stub as well. I simply asked her how she was feeling about all the changes. Her pleasant, aged face instantly scrunched, tripling her wrinkle count as she tried to suppress her tears. “I don’t know why I am still here.” Because your son still wants to look in those eyes, I thought. After a pause, something significant exited my mouth to her hearing aids, but I don’t recall what it was. I was thinking please don’t close your eyes, no, not yet.
A week ago I had to apologize to an adopted son who has his own cracks. He had made some horrible decisions which sucked all of our attention, as parents, from our “ninety and nine sheep”. Honestly, I didn’t want to look at him for a while. This wasn’t what our vision looked like seven years ago when we received him into our home.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been looking you in the eyes lately,” I breathed. “Now, look at me.”
We held the contact and I said a few other stumbling thoughts. Then his tears broke out like escaped convicts and sprinted down and jumped from his chin to his pea-coat button.
Why? Why are the eyes the gateway to the soul, as they say? Physiologically they are just black holes that suck in light. They are two of three dots of the ellipses of our existence placed strategically apart to capture the depth of things. How can they be the instrument of embrace between people across a crowded room? How can darting pupils in an intense conversation underline the thoughts just behind them? How can they twinkle like a couple of little stars? How?
© Gerald Allen Barrett and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.