Perspective: The power of a look


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By Ricardo Márquez

There are looks that wound, looks that illuminate and give strength, looks that are compassionate or humiliate. The way we look at someone has emotional power. What does our gaze communicate? How do we look at people we encounter?

In life, people easily forget what we said or did, but they never forget how we made them feel.

I recall vividly an experience when I was part of a group of volunteers visiting inmates at a federal prison. At the end of the day of sharing, we formed a circle where the visitors were on the inside and the residents on the outside. It was a final ritual after having shared reflections, games and songs.

Those of us on the interior of the circle rotated slowly, gazing at the inmate in front of us, who remained standing still. Thus, each of the visitors could make visual contact with each of the inmates. It was a silent exercise; we had been instructed to express with our eyes what we wanted to say.

We all know how hard it is at times to sustain a look into someone’s eyes. That day, the inmates responded in various ways: Some lowered their heads almost immediately, others laughed, some let the tears flow. I’ll never forget something that occurred at the end.

An inmate approached me, put his hands gently on my shoulder and, looking in my eyes, said: “Thank you. It has been so long since someone made me feel like you did with the way you looked at me.” We embraced and cried together, for a few moments relishing the sacred moment of freedom we felt.

On the way home, I relived the encounter and his words: “Thank you. It has been so long since someone made me feel like you did with the way you looked at me.” I recall asking the Lord for the grace to be able to look at each person like He would have done, with His spirit of acceptance and love, with a gaze that invites, embraces, heals and forgives. That’s the internal language that consciously accompanied each of the visual encounters I had in the circle. I was simply an instrument of that loving source that comes from above and quenches our thirst for love and acceptance.

What did the inmate give me with his look, embrace and tears? He made me feel like his brother. We had never seen each other before, but a look was all we needed to feel this communion.

He allowed me to experience that mystery of God, which we struggle to understand in its totality, but which at once makes itself visible in a simple look. It was a preview of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Eyes are a mirror to the soul. Our gazes reflect what we’re carrying and cultivating inside; they contain within them the power to build or to destroy, to darken or to illuminate. We can consciously choose how we gaze at others.


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