the other night, i was staring absentmindedly out my bedroom window – it’s what a daydreamer does.  an absent gaze was interrupted, though, when i realized that a male silhouette had just crossed the backlit window of an apartment across the street.  i’m embarrassed to admit that my first thought was curiosity (and a desire to watch what story might unfold) – i think we all have a little voyeur inside, don’t we? and then my second thought: avert your eyes. 

he may be moving around, backlit, in front of windows without drapes, but his proximity to my view does, by no means, grant me privileged access to his actions.  i have an unwritten responsibility to supplement his thin curtains by veiling my view – as a matter of respect, and a matter of hope (that others will do the same for me).   it got me thinking about a lot of things in the city that fall in one’s field of vision – things one is not supposed to see.

i’m not supposed to see the anger in a high school student’s face- even though we’re pressed against one another in the crowded bus for blocks as i go to work and he goes to school.  in the bus, one is only supposed to see three things: the fare box, an empty seat, and the please-stop-here cord.  anyone looking anywhere else transgresses with his eyes. 

i’m not sure i’m supposed to see people on the sidewalk in my neighborhood, either.  i’ve taken to saying hello to people i meet.  i’ve tried to adopt the (west?) philly “how’y’doin” (with a nod) that doesn’t really intend to ask how someone is doing – it just says hello in a courteous, respectful way.  but it’s been a struggle – because though sometimes i get a friendly smile in return, it’s often a stone-cold stare right past me.  those people have averted their eyes – and they’d appreciate it if i did the same. 

there are circumstances that are supposed to be invisible: the guy sleeping in the doorway of the Center City apartment building; the kid panning for change at the train station; the broken-out car window that’s like the calling card of the neighborhood drug addict.  if you acknowledge the visibility of these things, you’ve entered into them – and you can’t get out without sharing the blame or finding a fix.  most times, it’s just easier not to look.

but if we stop looking, will we forget how to see? how long can we avert our eyes before we go blind? 

 (and how can i keep looking without going off a deep end?  if i look, how can i help but appropriate what i see?  i guess one needs to balance out the bad that will creep in to every field of vision by seeking, deliberately, the good that can be found if looked-for.  is this why we are exhorted, in Scripture, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith?  is this why nothing makes sense to the Psalmists until they considered God’s deeds throughout history – until they reflected on His sovereignty, power, and goodness?  )

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