“What every child wants to know is, ‘do your eyes light up when I walk in the room?’” Toni Morrison & Glennon Doyle Melton
I’ve known I’m “wired” a little differently than most for a long time, but that doesn’t stop me from being constantly reminded of that fact – sometimes in the subtlest of ways. Several months ago, for example, I and a few hundred other lawyers from around the country gathered for a client conference in Los Angeles. As conferences go, it was impressive: well-organized and graced with talented speakers, who delivered considerable substance. My lasting memory of the event, however, came in the form of a car commercial that was being broadcast as filler material on two ginormous meeting hall video screens, which I happened upon only because I had returned early from one of the breaks. The commercial was narrated by a young woman who had just “inherited” the family car and was driving it away from home en route to college. No sooner had she cleared the end of the driveway, than the memories of a life spent growing up in and around that car began pouring out – the fondest of which, as it turns out, was the fact that when she was a little girl her car seat was perfectly positioned in a place that allowed her to clearly see the rear view mirror. Why? Because it meant she could see her dad and “he smiled with his eyes.”
Admittedly, it’s a beautiful image but, truth be told, not one that is likely to cause tears to well up in the eyes of most 56 year-old trial lawyers! In fact, I feel fairly confident in saying that if my 200 – 300 colleagues had been in the room with me at the time (which, fortunately, they weren’t!) not a single one of them would have even watched the commercial, let alone been struck by the power of that phrase the way I was. Why did it affect me as profoundly as it did? Maybe it was because, despite racking my brain, I was unable to find a similar “smile” in the long-since-shuttered eyes of my own dad (or mom) among the thousands of images of them that make up the landscape of my life (http://tinyurl.com/ov5ppqg). To the contrary, I quickly realized that, unlike the fortunate young girl in the commercial, the parental eyes of my childhood were too often impatient, tired, blood shot, empty or filled with disappointment, loneliness, pain, discouragement and heartache. Maybe my tears were borne of the countless hours I’ve spent sifting through (and struggling to understand) the distorted images of self that hundreds of pairs of otherwise beautiful eyes unknowingly, but hurtfully and repeatedly present to those who are unwilling or unable to see their truth. Or maybe my tears simply flowed from envy – they certainly had done that a time or two before (http://tinyurl.com/lmtwtro).
However, this much I know for sure: We grossly underestimate and under appreciate the importance and the power of our eyes. They are, after all, the lenses through which we see ourselves and, as importantly, the mirrors in which others, especially those we love, search for the truth about themselves (http://tinyurl.com/kvbk6gg). We would all do well to remember that, because while we may not always be able to control the images we see, we most certainly can influence the way we “process” those images and reflect them back to ourselves and to the world around us. I suggest we use them wisely (e.g., to find the good in things and in others whenever possible, to express compassion, empathy and acceptance always, to cry when the circumstances warrant tears and sparkle when they inspire a smile). Above all else, I hope that we will “train” our eyes to see us and those we love with the gentleness and kindness that both deserve. I’m still not sure why that simple commercial affected me the way it did, but I’m certain that my life will have been properly lived if, in the end, just one person will say: “The thing I remember most about Don is that he smiled with his eyes!”
(Photo by Steve Johnson)