As I walked down the street towards a gym. I passed a stranger. It was a particularly bright morning. I’d had a good night’s sleep and woke early so I was feeling particularly charged. I was crossing a street, coming up toward him on a diagonlal path. I straightened myself up, and looked him in the eyes as we crossed paths and smiled.
Hey, How tall are you?
Out of nowhere he waltzed up to me and posed the question. I was stunned by his friendly openess. The glance transformed the moment, instantly. Here was ‘just another stranger’. A person like any other, passed by in the thousands, and now I was looking right in his eyes and talking to him. He worked as a teacher. He asked me if I played basketball (a common question). I spoke about how brooms and countertops were a difficulty and I was constnatly having to bend over. We shared a laugh and parted ways.
There is this bizzare twilight zone of avoiding people’s close-proximity gaze in public. I see this in myself. As two strangers approach eachother on the street, their eyes wander. Then, at about fifteen paces, their gaze is magnetized to the ground. As the physical distance contracts, the psychic distance expands. A bizzare guessing game begins as to which way the other is going to go, to the left or right. Careful not to permeat eachother’s personal space. Heaven forbid they bump into eachother…
Tension builds until both parties are firmly behind eachother and there is a mutual exhalation. There’s this inner body-language stratager who tries to calculate on which side this other person/threat is going to pass, in order to avoid their path with the minimum amount of awkward anxiety.
The irony is that if people looked eachother in the eyes as they passed, they would get all the information they needed regarding their intentional path. Human facial expressions bankrupts any linguistic symbol system, more information is exchanged between two faces in a heartbeat then an hour’s worth of keyboard communication.
Many times I have seen stranger’s faces in my perhipheral vision on the street, or in the suway. Mean masks, I think. Then I look in the eyes. Every time the face becomes instantly human. Real and feeling.
This is perhaps an ideal, but maybe things would be a bit better if people were easier about looking in eachothers eyes.