Writer, author, memoir teacher. I write about the connections we find by giving each other the time and space to be heard.

Eye Contact

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Going to physical therapy reminds me of the nail salon. The manicure clients don’t look at each other and prefer to gaze into space, pore through a People magazine, or stare at the TV mounted high on the wall.

At physical therapy, it’s much the same, except for the magazines. There is no TV and we are too much busy to read. Our determined looks and occasional winces remind me we are all in this together. Everybody is trying to do something physically difficult if not impossible.

The husky fortyish guy prone on the table with his knee wrapped in a huge white bandage looks like he’s about to break into a sweat when all he is doing is lifting his leg a couple of inches. The old woman across from me furrows her brow as she oh-so-slowly climbs up and down a little step-stool.

I make faces when my therapist forces my fingers down toward my palm to encourage my hand to make a fist. “Just two more times,” he says and pushes hard on my knuckles. “It’s hardest the first time. It gets better after this.”

The woman at the next table with her hand wrapped in an ice pack says “That’s not true.” Not what I want to hear. I just can’t do it and it hurts. But I can’t scream here. Nobody else is doing that. I can’t cry either.

The little boy across the room looks about eight or nine and he is doing the exact same hand exercises I am. All by himself. He looks serious but he’s not crying or wincing. I can be as brave as this little kid.

I catch his eye, smile and ask, “What did you do?”

“I fell off my bike,” he says with a shy smile, then goes back to work.

I’ve been coming here twice a week for over a month. In all that time, I engaged a couple of other patients in a sentence or two, but the kid is the only one I’ve asked about his injury. Now I want to poll every patient in the room: “What did you do?” I want to tell them I broke my hand. I don’t know why. Maybe I think I can forge some kind of bond over our shared pain and misery. Maybe I think we can encourage each other.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m doing therapy again, this time after shoulder surgery. Different, smaller office, same silence. No TV but they do have magazines nobody reads. Everybody’s working hard. I still try to make eye contact with the other patients but I quickly see how hard that is while you’re trying to focus on a nearly impossible task. I say a silent prayer for us all and get back to work.

Have you ever been in a situation where you want to make eye contact with someone? Did you succeed? Tell us in the comments section and I’ll put your name in the hat for a drawing to win a copy of Cathy Lamb’s wonderful novel, The Language of Sisters, about family secrets and communicating beyond words.

The winner of this month’s drawing is Judy Mitten! She wins a copy of Styx and Stone, by James W. Ziskin. Congratulations, Judy, and thanks for your comment!

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