Eyes wide open.

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He likes his mornings slow and easy — coffee and a newspaper.

He likes waking up with the sun.

“I like waking up when things are still quiet and everything is peaceful,” he said. “Most of the world is still asleep. I want to wake up eager for the day and eager for what’s about to happen, and that means having a morning I go to sleep looking forward to.” 

There’s something deep and honest and almost vulnerable about his love for mornings, more than his love for coffee and photojournalism and newspapers. It’s his eagerness for life.

 

He didn’t always have it — he’s had to practice it over the last year — but it’s shifted his mindset and the groundwork of who he is as a person. And if I’m honest, it’s something I’ve always seen in him, since the day I met him. He literally throws his soul into everything he cares about and the amount of grace he extends is unbelievably widespread.

And perhaps it’s simple, that it simply comes from who he is as a person. But I’d like to think that it comes from his eagerness about life, that he throws his everything into everything because of that wholeheartedness, and how extraordinarily rare that is in a person. I don’t know a lot of people who look forward to sitting in traffic on the way downtown, because to him, it means listening to NPR or long conversations; routines he’s grown to revere.

And always, more coffee.

. . .

Right now he’s overseas on a mission trip, serving refugees. One of his tasks is an acting gatekeeper, checking IDs when refugees leave and come back to the camp. Depending on the time of the shift, he can go hours without seeing anyone come through the gate.

Still he is there. Still he waits.

One of the things he told me he was hoping to walk away from the trip with was a sense of more awe, more wonder.

His eyes wide open.

“I always thought ‘eyes wide open’ meant ‘keep my eyes open to see what others don’t.’ I’ve always constrained that to photography. And I think it still means that, but since being here and not being able to take photos, it kills me sometimes because it’s out of my comfort zone — my camera’s like a safety blanket. I often keep my eyes closed to the smells, feelings, sounds, things unseen. I usually focus on, literally, what I can see and only that. And since I can’t take photos, I have to keep my eyes wide open in other ways.” 

What he didn’t realize at first was how significant him making that statement was.

It’s gone beyond the eyes of his body — it’s the eyes of his soul that are open and opening, and they’re letting everything in. They’re the gatekeepers.

Just like he is right now, sitting at the gate, letting people in and out. He is metaphorically and literally practicing staying open, and learning when to stay closed.

He sees and feels and smells everything through those “lenses” because you never hear someone say “the arms or the nose of the soul.”

It’s the eyes.

It’s always the eyes.

And if there’s anything I’ve learned from photography, and from him, it’s that it’s so much more than the surface of the photo or the surface of the situation. There’s a lot of heart, a lot of soul, behind this world, and we like to live on the surface, and we like to forget there are layers to people, even the most unemotional. But they’re there. And they’re worth seeing. In every metaphorical and physical sense of the word.

. . .

I started this post with the goal of writing about mornings. I was going to write about routine, how important mornings have become to me, staying eager, all that. I was going to finish the post this morning and send it out to the world.

But I had a conversation with another friend last night that was an unexpected game-changer. In a mixture of late night exhaustion and a random burst of confidence, I flat-out told my friend they deserved more. That I’ve always hated knowing they’ve cheapened themselves when they have so much to offer, so much intelligence, so much kindness.

And truthfully in a moment of pure vulnerability, I told them what I thought of them, something I’d never done before.

The response still haunts me.

I’m still not sure if they intended for me to take it as heavy as I did, but the text popped up and it might as well have been a slap to the face.

“You remember the old line: ‘We accept the love we think we deserve.'” 

Dang.

I felt a physical weight drop on my chest. We moved on to a different topic shortly after, but I woke up and it was the first thing that popped into my head. And how even I haven’t always given them enough credit for feeling that deeply. That sometimes a person can be so good at fooling us that they’re okay that you actually believe them.

We’re not okay. We don’t have it all together. Some people are better off than others. Some people are stronger and braver, some people are struggling to keep climbing. It made me realize how good we are at hiding what hurts us most. Some better than others.

And the topic of accepting the love we think we deserve is for another day, but I felt it was necessary I somehow admit to the world that I’ve sucked recently at being there for people too. That I need to remember that mantra: we’re not okay, and we don’t have it all together. And sometimes we can be really shitty and backstab people, and sometimes we say really bad things and hurt the ones we care about the most.

We all have ghosts, we all have the skeletons, we all have the baggage. We’re all somehow carrying the world on our collective shoulders.

Every. One. Of us.

And like my friend in Greece said, we desperately need eyes to see that, to see what’s underneath the surface.

need that.

And to be completely honest, I’m not sure how to do that. I’m not sure how to tie up this post without ending it with a cliche bow on top. This deserves more than an easy fix.

So I will say this.

My “I think and I feel”‘s may not mean a lot, but this is what I think, and this is what I feel. I don’t think we’re going to get it right most of the time, but I think there’s beauty in trying.

And I feel it’s going to start with keeping our eyes open.

 

 

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