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Opia

The Ambiguous Intensity of Eye Contact

So much can be said in a glance. You feel such ambiguous intensity, looking someone in the eye—it’s somehow both intrusive and vulnerable. Their pupils glittering black, bottomless, and opaque.

The eye is a keyhole through which the world pours in, and a world spills out. For a few seconds, you can peek through into a vault that contains everything they are. Catching a glimpse of their vulnerability, their pain, their humor, their vitality, their power over others, and what they demand of themselves. But whether the eyes are the windows of the soul or the doors of perception, it doesn’t really matter: you’re still standing on the outside of the house.

Eye contact isn’t really contact at all. It’s only ever a glance—a near- miss—that you can only feel as it slips past you. There’s so much that we keep in the back room; so much that other people never get to see. We only ever offer up a sample of who we are, of what we think people want us to be. And yet, how rarely do we stop to look inside, let our eyes adjust, and try to see what’s really there, the worlds hidden away in the eyes of others.

You too are peering out from behind your own door. You put yourself out there, trying to decide how much of the world to let in. It’s all too easy for others to size you up and carry on their way. They can see you more clearly than you ever could. Yours is the only vault you can’t see into, that you can’t size up in an instant. You’ll always have to wonder if someone might come along and peer into your soul. Or if anyone out there will put in the effort, trying to find the key.

We’re all just exchanging glances, trying to tell each other who we are. Trying to catch a glimpse of ourselves, feeling around in the darkness.

Greek όπιο (ópio), opium + -ωπία (-opía), of the eyes. The word pupil is from the Latin pupilla, “little girl-doll,” a reference to the tiny image of yourself you see reflected in the eyes of another. This idea was the origin of the Elizabethan expression to look babies, which means “to stare lovingly into another’s eyes.” Pronounced “oh-pee-uh

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