Marriage Enrichment: Making eye contact makes all the difference

‘It’s hard for people to see the face of Jesus in our or see Jesus in others if we never look directly at them’

By Marian Christiana

Summer is not even over yet, but, so far, this one has been a doozy! My husband, Ralph, and I have had a real cycle-of-life kind of season made even more complicated by frustrating travel delays.

As I mentioned in my last article, my stepmother was in a skilled nursing facility out in California, and her health was declining quickly. Late in May, our newest granddaughter was born in Austin, Texas, and within a week, my stepmother, Dolores, passed away in California. I was in Austin meeting the new addition to our family when Dolores died.

As things worked out, I left Austin for Los Angeles to attend the funeral. Ralph stayed back in Austin to keep our 20-month-old granddaughter amused while Mommy and Daddy adjusted to the new baby’s schedule. After the funeral, I returned to Austin for an afternoon to give a few more hugs and kisses to grandbabies, and then Ralph and I made our way to the Austin airport.

Our travel fun began when we tried to get home to Chattanooga from Austin that afternoon. There are no direct flights to or from Austin and Chattanooga. We either change planes in Atlanta or Dallas when we travel to visit our daughter and her family. This trip we were traveling through Dallas.

For some reason I had TSA pre-check clearance, but Ralph did not. Usually, both of us have the pre-check designation, and we have become quite spoiled by it. Security was extremely busy that day. I got through security in 15 minutes, and Ralph came through 40 minutes later. Once we found each other, we moved on to our gate.

Our flight to Dallas was now delayed because of bad weather in the Dallas area that was affecting flights from all over the region. We had plenty of time in Dallas to make our connection home, so we really weren’t concerned about missing that flight, yet. We finally boarded our plane then sat at the gate for an hour. After that hour, we were deplaned and told there would be a two-hour delay. Planes were not flying into Dallas that afternoon, but because of our delay in Austin it was looking like our Dallas connection might leave before we could get there.

We started to make contingency plans. We thought we would at least get to Dallas some time that night. My sister, Kass, happens to live in Plano, just north of Dallas. She was still in California since she had extended her visit after Dolores’ funeral. I began texting her son who also lives in Dallas.

The plan we hatched was that he would put a key under the mat for us at my sister’s house so we could spend the night there if we made it that far. In the meantime, I decided that I should charge my phone since it looked like it was going to be a long night. The airport was packed. People were sitting everywhere and almost every plug in every wall and column had a phone attached. There was one available but two women were sitting on the floor blocking the plug. Both women were charging their phones, and both women were texting.

One of the women wore a hijab and was dressed in conservative Muslim clothes. I made eye contact and asked her if I could use the empty plug and she said of course. We began to talk; she introduced herself as Sonia, and it turned out that she was on her way back to Dallas after a business meeting, and that she actually lived in Plano, a few minutes from where my sister lives.

Eventually, she said that if we missed our flight in Dallas, she would be happy to drive us to my sister’s house since her car was at the airport, and her husband would be happy that she had company in the car since it looked like it was going to be late by the time we got there. Well, now it was going to get interesting.

Back on the plane three hours later, sat on the plane for an hour, mechanical problems, flight canceled, off the plane, no more flights that night to Dallas—now we had to come up with a new plan. We figured Sonia would go back to her hotel and spend the night and return to Dallas in the morning. We were booked on an early morning flight, Dallas to Chattanooga, and decided to rent a car, drive to Dallas, stay at my sister’s house and get to the airport in the morning. At the car rental office, whom do we run into but Sonia. She decided to rent a car (her company would pay) and said, why don’t you two ride with me? So, off we went.

Let me compress the rest of this: It was Ramadan, and Sonia had not eaten all day. We stopped at a Middle Eastern restaurant that she knew on our way out of Austin, and she bought us dinner. Our plans with our nephew to stay at my sister’s place fell through, and Sonia said, why don’t you stay at my house and my husband and I will take you to the airport in the morning? Oh, we couldn’t do that, I said. Of course you can, Sonia said. We get up to pray every morning at 5 a.m., and we will have to take the rental car back to the airport anyway to pick up my car. So, we drove to Plano, slept for three hours at Sonia’s, and were driven to the airport at 6:30 a.m. by Sonia and her husband, Fareed, two of the nicest people we have met in many years.

I tell you this Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride story to bring up the point that making eye contact with Sonia made all the difference in what ultimately happened to us that night. At the time, I was thinking of a column that I had read in the paper a few days before about the power of just looking someone in the eye while talking with him or her as a way to make a true connection. I looked at her, and she looked at me. We were able to make a true connection that began with direct eye contact. Because of that connection, Sonia, Ralph, and I were able to share not only the adventures of a road trip but also an understanding of the common tenet in our religious beliefs about welcoming the stranger.

As Christians, we are called to be the face of Jesus to everyone we meet. I think that most days we could all spend an entire day without really making eye contact with another person. For instance, do you actually make eye contact with cashiers in the grocery store? How about your server when you are out to eat at a restaurant? Do you stop and look at your coworkers when they speak to you in the hallway?

More importantly, do you stop what you are doing and give your spouse or other family members your undivided attention when they are speaking to you? Sometimes people just want to know that they are being acknowledged.

This month let’s all try to give everyone that we meet direct eye contact as we speak to them and see how it affects both our chance encounters and established connections. It is hard for people to see the face of Jesus in us or see Jesus in others if we never look directly at them. So look up from your phone or computer. You never know what wonderful new experience may be waiting for you.

Marian Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.

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