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Looking up

A friend and I jog regularly through Arlington, recently named “America’s most walkable suburb” and the “best place to live” in the country. And yet, in this supposed paragon community: nobody is looking up.


On a recent jog, we passed 55 people walking or jogging in the opposite direction. I greeted them each with eye contact, a smile, and either a nod or “good morning.” Sixty- five percent of them had earbuds in, 10 percent were talking on the phone, and 20 percent were looking at their smart phone. That leaves just 5 percent—three people—who returned my eye contact and greeting.


On our typical 5-mile run, we cross about 40 intersections, and at least one driver per run accelerates directly at us as we cross. We yell, swerve, or stop short, but the driver is texting, has earbuds in, or is otherwise oblivious.


We also typically pass more than 20 bus stops and now assume that the five to10 people waiting at a stop won’t look up or exhibit any “situational awareness” whatsoever. And usually, two to three fellow pedestrians will suddenly meander, glued to the phone, into the middle of the sidewalk, prompting a near collision. Their earbuds render a heads-up useless.  


But now, closer to home.


The days are increasing when I arrive home and none of my five children greets me in the driveway or even at the door. Way back in the iPhone 3 era, I was greeted like a rock star before my car came to a stop in the driveway. There are times when the kids still greet me, but if I am candid, my attention is often on a text or email. And at last count, we had nine screens in our home. 


We — I — have a problem. If unchecked, it will eviscerate our souls. If not countered with aggressive limits, curfews, controls and mortifications we will lose our families.  


Rather than bemoan the state of eye contact, I propose three solutions: 


First, let us run desperately to Jesus — now — and learn how His eyes figured into His earthly ministry. “The lamp of the body is the eye,” he said. “If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light.” If the average American adult spends 10.6 hours a day looking at screens, can our eyes be sound? Is our sight not in fact so unsound that if Jesus walked by us today, He’d have to tweet that He’s trying to make eye contact with us?


“Our loved ones merit our complete attention,” wrote Pope Francis recently. “Jesus is our model in this, for whenever people approached to speak with him, he would meet their gaze, directly and lovingly” (The Joy of Love, 323).


Second, let us run to the saints, for seeing how these real men and women used their gift of sight just might lift our heads up from the smartphone. “You sometimes might prefer not to even look at somebody when you had some misunderstanding,” advised Blessed Mother Teresa. “Then, not only look, but give a smile.” 


Third, we need recourse to eucharistic adoration; gazing upon Jesus retrains our eyes. “Often during adoration,” wrote Mother Teresa, “faces of the people I have met come before me and I remember them to Jesus.” Our thousands of hours of screen-gazing will require hundreds or even thousands of hours of gazing at the Lord in prayer before the Eucharist — but we must do this, no matter the cost.


On a recent run I tried not to judge the glassy-eyed men and women who passed by me. I tried not to generalize about the state of their souls or the culture in which my children are coming of age. I know that even before the miracle of my children’s smiles, I often — Lord, forgive me — choose a screen. 


Instead, for just a moment in this “best place to live” in America, I saw Jesus ravaged and thirsting. I glimpsed a man of sorrow, eyes downcast, alone, hungry for attention. I was given a momentary glimpse into his suffering heart.


I saw him thirsting for my love.


Johnson, a husband and father of five, is the bishop’s Delegate for Evangelization and Media.












© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016