When I walked into the grocery store, he was standing by the door. I’d never seen him before, but he was wearing a uniform and I knew he was an employee. I said an average hello, and he responded with a hello so happy it startled me.
Then he handed me a shopping basket. I hadn’t even asked for one, but I needed one. He smiled at me, looked into my eyes—and he held that gaze, longer than “normal.” That’s when I knew this was a blessed moment. “Normal” people don’t smile like this and look deeply into my eyes, not even my close friends. We’re all too socially adept. We know to look briefly, then avert. Change the emotional subject.
I held up my basket. I saw his name tag. Said, “Thank you, Mark.” He held up his hand triumphantly, for a high-five. I slapped palms as if we had just won Olympic gold.
I went on to get my scallions and red onions but for a moment the whole water-misted Produce section was the Garden of Eden. Mark was an innocent. The awe of his gaze lingered about me.
Every human being craves intimacy. We need it in the womb and ever thereafter, some sense that we know and are known at a level below the outer, the apparent, the visible. And yet, because we are taught early on to cultivate the outer, the apparent, the visible, this intimacy is the one thing we cannot have. That’s why we have to find it in little children, or the very old, or the ones who have “something wrong with them.”
I left the grocery store with the four things I had come for: scallions, red onions, saltines and capers. And one thing I had not: the eyes of Mark.