The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Locking Eyes

This evening, as I drove home from work, I passed a white van. “State Prisoners” was inscribed prominently on the front and back. I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen a vehicle of this kind. I wondered if it was actually transporting any prisoners.

I got a little ahead, and looked again. There were two men inside, dressed in white. One was middle-aged and white, looking out at the traffic. Behind him sat a young, handsome black guy wearing a headset. He had large eyes and thick eyebrows, a prominent nose. And he looked straight at me.

I couldn’t look away. I had sunglasses on, so I felt somewhat comfortable looking right back. His gaze didn’t waver. Neither did mine.

The van moved ahead, and I kept pace with it.

Again we drew level, and I found him looking at me. I returned the gaze.

The traffic moved swiftly, and the van sped forward. I fell back, and lost my place in the traffic.

I prayed silently, let me catch up with him again. I removed my sunglasses.

The traffic continued to flow forward, and again I caught up with the van. There was a lane separating our two vehicles, but there were few cars, and I was able to look right at him. He looked back at me. He had a direct and open expression. It wasn’t unfriendly. There was no question in his eyes, or any curiosity. It was a clear, simple look. And I was able to reciprocate the simplicity.

It felt special, this brief interaction. Later I wondered, should I have smiled? Given a thumbs-up, a tiny wave, perhaps?

In hindsight, I am happy that I did nothing to spoil the moment.

Not for a single instant did I “feel sorry” for the young handsome man. Neither did I feel intimidated locking eyes with him. (I am not always comfortable looking into another’s eyes; it feels too direct for my comfort.)

What did I hope to convey? That I was sympathetic? That I hoped things would improve for him? Or did I mean to send a blessing?

None of the above, actually. I was caught in a brief moment of sharing, and I was able to participate fully. And I came away from that interaction, feeling strangely intimate and connected.