Last night after a speaking engagement I stopped a lady and said: “Excuse me, I have I met you before?”.
My heart and life were immersed in her eyes and I couldn’t shake the feeling that we had encountered each other profoundly. She said to me I’m a midwife and my knees buckled slightly.
I smiled and thanked her “yes indeed you were my midwife when I gave birth to my son six years ago.” As I sat and chatted, internally I was trying to shut down my memories.
Breathe in and out.
They flooded as I looked into her eyes remembering that moment after midnight asking without words whether my child in distress would be okay?
The birth of my firstborn Maximus was far from the slow breathing I had expected. After a day of labour and waiting, my husband took me back to the hospital on a whim. As this midwife put the heart rate monitor on my stomach, her face betrayed her emotions as she quickly exited the room.
It was my first pregnancy and experience of birth, so I was slightly confused, but across my experience, I had found hospital staff to have the position of giving as much information as necessary and empathy was far from their calling card.
She ran in with an obstetrician (who was not my own) and quickly shouted that I needed to remove all my jewellery because I would be going straight into surgery. It was her eyes that drew me. If she had not moved that night quickly in February, I would not have my little boy snuggling into my side as I now write.
One of the lessons I am learning in embracing slow is to look into another’s eyes and acknowledge the pain they are facing even if it remains unspoken. We can pick up so much in our everyday worlds by just slowing our eyes to connect deeply with people we meet in our daily lives.
“Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.” Luke 7: 44 (NIV)
This story in Luke takes us to a moment when the disciples were trying to move Jesus on so that they could quickly pass the drama of the story.
Eyes tell a story that no Instagram filter can cover. They are a window into the soul and when we slow to look into the eyes of another the empathy that is available to see is a gift. Have you ever walked the street and not wanted to engage in someone’s story, the first point of reference is never to look them in the eyes.
Eyes engaged. Story entered.
Before this passage in Luke, Jesus had listened to the disciples try and move him on from this woman and her story. Insert “Don’t look, Jesus, you don’t know what she has done.”
“When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner.” Luke 7:39 (NIV)
The power of embracing slow is having the time to engage in someone’s story, even when it is awkward. To take a chair and to sit with those present in the midst of suffering. We don’t need to offer answers but just the dignity of looking deep into their lives.
My goal this year as I embrace slow is to look into the eyes of those before me. The barista, checkout operator, the cleaner in the bathroom and those standing to wait at the end of my speaking engagements. It is easy to move quickly through a crowd to remain unnoticed but when we purposefully listen to hear rather than formulating our answer empathy is empowered.
Help me to look into the eyes of strangers and bestow compassion as you did. Help me to slow in my awkward moments to listen as to understand rather than reply. And lastly, teach me how to ask questions that honour the story of those in my presence.
In the name of Jesus