Joan Brock

The Gaze

My high school years were at the tail end of the 1960’s, and at the time of this writing, my 1970 graduating class is in the process of gathering names and contact information for a reunion.  With the social networking and technology of today, the committee is having exciting success in finding people from all over the world.

I grew up in southern California and our high school was a large  inter-racial school of about 3,000 students.  The issues of the unrest in our country during my very ‘simple’ high school days were occasionally evident on campus.  Looking back at those experiences I find myself a little embarrassed in realizing how little I knew and understood.  Denial?  Naiveté?  Immaturity?  All of it applies.

Since my vision loss in 1984 memories have played a huge part in my healing and enjoying the world of my ‘un-seeing’ eyes.  I treasure the gift of memory as there is nothing that can take those life experiences from me.  Reminiscing is a favorite past time and the upcoming reunion is triggering many days gone by.

The particular blip in time that I am going to talk about, I believe, was during my freshman year of high school.  I don’t recall the class, the teacher OR the student’s name.  (I suppose that is part of this getting old thing!)  In the row to my left and one seat forward, sat an African American girl who I did not know.  This particular day the sun was streaming in through the windows right onto her face.  I found myself entranced and staring, yes staring,  at her gorgeous skin.  The color was rich, flawless, and smooth.  I was spellbound and it captivated my full attention.  This young girl was simply beautiful.  The irony is that we white girls were always trying to get that same look, but in those days we fried ourselves with melted cocoa butter out by the pool!  What were we thinking?!  Dah!

She must have sensed something.  She suddenly, but slowly looked over her right shoulder.  She looked right into my eyes.  Our mutual gaze at each other was just long enough to become uncomfortable.  Neither of us said anything.  The look we shared was powerful and we seemed to not be able to pull the gaze away from one another.   Eventually we broke the trance-like moment  and both pair of eyes returned to the open books on our desk.

I wondered what she thought.  I was so embarrassed.  I am guessing she didn’t know what I was really thinking.  Oh how I wished at the time, and still do today, that I had told her how beautiful she was.  Why didn’t I say something?  Would she have believed me?  Isnt it interesting that the very thing that I was most envious of was the color of her skin?  The exact issue that seemed to be causing unrest in our world?  It is almost, but not really, laughable.

I propose that if the world would take a moment to close their eyes and go with who people truly are from the inside out, we all would be better off.  May I make it clear that I wish blindness on no-one, but now because of my 26 years of vision loss, I am fortunate to be able to meet people in a way that has nothing to do with their appearance.  It really is quite extraordinary and I love my life.

I am blessed to have had my sight for 32 years.  I feel grateful I had the opportunity to have seen that deep rich skin.  I am even capable of conjuring up the hues of that color in my mind’s eye.  Yes, I have lost the rainbow of colors from my physical vision, but I will always treasure the memory of the color of her skin.  The rays of sun illuminating her face was a gift to me, and was meant to have happened.  I just wish I could remember who she was.  I wonder if she will be at the reunion?  The truth is, I’ll never know.

I am sure you have had a moment such as this which has stayed with you.  Relive your memories, no matter your age.  It can certainly bring a smile to your thoughts and possibly even help to heal the differences that we so often want to cling to.

One last thing; the next time you gaze into the eyes of someone who has touched your life… say something.  I wish I had.

(Please stay tuned for news on a new book in progress.)

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Joan Brock