The Way They See Me

Tracey Clark takes my camera for a spin, Chicago 09, Diana F+

This last year brought me many opportunities to find myself, to pull something of myself into focus like never before, as I was seen by communities and friends who welcomed me with love. It's clarifying to be thrown into a mix, like a crew of actors on a rehearsal stage because you see what you bring that's missing when you step behind the curtain. I play a good sage to her queen, or I am the wild woman in the woods. This is a point-of-view that's hard to get when you're alone with your life and your work.

"Listen to who we say you are," I tell her now. "Can you just step inside that picture of yourself long enough to play in it a little--try it on to see how it feels?" I know she will feel like a child trotting around in high-heeled shoes, but I ask her to trust us. To trust that just maybe (or quite likely) we see her more accurately than she sees herself.

"I want to tell them about this," I tell Jen later, "about how we find ourselves through each other's eyes. But I'm afraid. I don't want to cause despair for anyone who doesn't have this experience yet."

I need not worry, she says. "The desire to see comes with it a willingness to be seen. Desire is the beginning of everything, don't you think?" We are like old ladies when we talk to each other this way, knowing more than our present selves could ever claim.

Nodding, I think it must be so. I know plenty of people happy not to be truly seen (I have been one myself), but those who desire to see and be seen seem to get what they wish for, even if a small dose of patience is first required, like a faith offering.

How about you? Are you willing to be seen? Can you pry those clenched fingers open, smooth them flat against the table top so when love brings you your first morsel, you have a surface on which to receive it?

Receiving the love is the hardest part of being seen.

I feel you cringing. Yes, it might sting, because it won't let you keep that distortion you call your self-image for long. But it's the pain of healing, and the relief and balm that follow are worth every risk you take, and then some.

I've known this healing, and I'm becoming more whole and true all the time. It doesn't happen as often now, but I still have spells in which I'm waiting for someone to notice me, feeling like a quiet wallflower at the the party--holding the fireworks behind my back and just waiting for someone to clear a space on the dance floor and invite me to set them off.

But how can I keep convincing myself that no one's noticing me here, when they keep seeing me and putting me out there for the world to see? (Not very well, that's how.)

[I just want to make sure our photog/visual arts friends understand the priceless gift they give us when they see us, and let us see ourselves through their eyes.]

My friends, old and new, teach me how to be seen. You don't have to smile, they school me. It's safe to let the curtain drop. So I look deep past their lenses and their skin, and I let them see my intensity, my love for them, the way my heart looks when it's been dismantled by raw, wild love.

After all these photos of this woman, try to believe these old thoughts she once harbored:

  • I'm not really beautiful.
  • I'm a wallflower at the dance of life, and no one sees me.
  • I'm not good at being myself, just a master role-player.
  • It's too scary to be seen; I should keep hiding out.
  • If I show them the Real Thing, they won't appreciate it.

Do you see how the way they see me is remaking my vision of myself? This is how even when I am lost to myself, I am found in their presence. Their eyes. Their love.

This is the opportunity we have (no cameras required) in every conversation, with our eyes and with our words. We can really see people, and tell them who they are: to us and to the the world. And when others do the same for us, from a place of love, we do well to believe them.

Desire is the beginning of everything, she says. Do you desire to see? Are you willing to be seen?

You will never be the same.