purebred golden retriever dogI was driving the other day when I looked to my left at a car that was slowly moving past me in the other lane. In the front passenger seat was a golden retriever who, as the car passed, made eye contact with me. We stared at each other for several moments and then broke the eye contact and I continued driving. It was really an interesting moment for me. As the dog made eye contact with me I realised that the dog acknowledged my existence—simply by looking me in the eye. And I acknowledged the existence of the dog by looking back. There was a connection there of something real.

Humans sometimes seem to rarely make eye contact. We seem to be much more comfortable making eye contact with an animal or a child than with another adult human. As someone who lives in the culture of the Northeast United States, I notice the purposeful looking away passersby do, and it’s not just about looking at their phones. There seems to be a real fear of making eye contact. Why?

Eye contact makes us vulnerable. It means personal connection and acknowledges the other as alive. It means we may have to risk a relationship forming. (What if we talk? Become friends?? Gasp!) When we acknowledge the other as present and alive there is a chance we may like each other, dislike each other, or feel judged. The fears that come with the possibility of human relationship cause us to avoid something as simple as eye contact. A dog and a child have no such fears. Therefore, they need not worry about making eye contact with a stranger. A child, in fact, may even smile!

My eye contact with that golden retriever on the road was a brief God moment for me, a reminder that someone—even a dog—affirms my existence without fear.

Pope Francis speaks of a fraternal love that is “capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbour, of finding God in every human being …” This week I challenge you to consciously make eye contact with others, even say hello.

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Music by Kevin MacLeod