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          Beep. Beep. Beep. A machine beside you rhythmically keeps beat to the thumping of your heart. Further away the chatter of people and a quiet murmur of rolling carts waft by. Sounds. That is everything your life has been, the careful calculation of what is going on around you through small audio cues and sensitivity of your touch. Creeeek. Click. Click. Click. Someone has entered the room. “Hey honey, are you awake?” the soft familiar voice of your mother is soothing. You nod, knowing she can see it even if you can’t. “The doctor will be here in a few minutes to take the bandages off,” her hand slips into yours. You squeeze it back tightly. Today everything could change. A life you never knew will be yours.

          Thump. Thump. Thump. More footsteps, heavier this time. A man’s deep voice greets you. Steady hands touch your face, slowly peeling back the soft gauze encircling your head. The tape sharply rips from your tender skin. “Keep your eyes shut until we tell you to open them, okay?” he says clinically but still kind. After what seems like an eternity the gauze has all been removed. Light penetrates through the thin skin of your eyelids. “Okay, open your eyes,” the doctor instructs. The moment has arrived. You slowly open your eyes, still sore from the operation. An ebbing blur of brilliant light greets you. You close your eyes for a moment, the world around you seems unbelievably bright. You blink for several moments, the cloudy world around you slowly beginning to clear. Shapes sharpen and the light is no longer blinding. Looking down you see your hands for the first time, slender with long fingers ending in smooth round nails. You turn them around slowly, taking in every detail.

          “Darling?” Your mother’s soft voice breaks you out of your fixated trance. “Hi mom,” you murmur looking up, seeing her face for the first time in your life. Her features are soft looking in a round oval, her lips curled up in a smile, and her eyes are dripping with tears. A face that should be so familiar but is something so foreign. You smile back, your eyes wondering through the room. The outline of your body under the sheets, the harsh lines of the doorframe, the strange little squiggles on the coat of the doctor, all the things you could not even imagine before.

          “What color is this?” you ask curiously, picking up a corner of the sheet. “White.” Colors had always been an intangible idea before, but now they were an overwhelming reality. “What about that?” You point to your mother’s shirt. “Blue.” You nod in understanding, repeating the word in your head. “How many colors are there?” you ask, eager to learn. The doctor answers thoughtfully, “Depends on who you ask. There’s white, and black, and all the colors of the rainbow, plus all the variations of those so… probably hundreds, maybe thousands.” They laugh at the shocked look on your face. “Don’t worry, we don’t know the names of all of them either,” your mother comforts, “Hey kiddo, I think there’s something you’d like to see. Take a look in the mirror.” She hands you an oval object with a handle and you move it in front of you. You stare into it at the person mimicking the movements you do. “Is… is this what I look like..?” You whisper, taking in every detail of your face, smoothing a hand over your hair. “Yes honey, and you are beautiful.”
          Two of my children are autistic. My daughter was not diagnosed until later in life due to the significant differences between the sexes in how autism manifests. My son, however; was diagnosed at a very young age. He is what is referred to as “high functioning.” This basically means that he can get through the day without harming the people around him for not understanding his world is different. One of the things that sets Nic apart is that to actually be listening to you he cannot be looking you in the eye. So little is known about the autism spectrum that people assume he is ignoring them or not giving them his full attention. Worse still is when he tries to look you in the eye and then stops because what he is hearing is important to him. Hearing you and looking at you are not the same for Nic. Looking people in the eye, making direct eye contact, is essential in communication; people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have difficultly hearing you and looking at you at the same time, they are distracted from the conversation by all of the details they see around you. In the United States making eye contact is considered a statement of interest and assurance; this is not true everywhere in the world just as it’s not true for my son.

          Around the globe eye contact can range from flirtation to blatant “interest” to wanting to signify honesty; it can even be considered a sign of disrespect. Truly though it is even different within the United States from state to state. While walking down the street in Kansas City people will look strangers in the eye, smile and often even say hello; however, in New York making eye contact can be seen as rude and women often have to avoid eye contact entirely to escape harassment. When seen in the world at large a quick glance and a smile at a member of the opposite sex can mean one thing in France and a completely different thing in Saudi Arabia and something else again in Japan. From flirtation to outright invitation to polite listening respectively this example allows you to see how eye contact can mean different things as you travel around the globe or just down the street.

          For me, for my son, and for all of the other families who have to deal with being told their child doesn’t listen or pay attention I say that making eye contact is a cultural practice. The lack of it does not mean stupidity, inattention or shyness; it can mean just the opposite for someone from another culture or even from someone in our culture who just needs to change what they are seeing to hear what they want to hear. No child wants to be different. Nic has tried time and again to change for societies norms. Just this once I think society can get used to his normal.
          Two thin veils lift in the morning as they have countless times before, but this time I am bombarded by a sense I've never had access to before. An entirely new world comes sharply into focus and it's difficult to take in all at once. I've received the gift of sight. I couldn't possibly have prepared for what it would actually mean to me. My other senses have always been sharp, but they recede into the background for once as I try to process a wealth of information for the very first time. The details are overwhelming. I stare at everything around me. Though I am greedy to see everything I can, my gaze lingers on every last detail before moving on to the next. It feels like I can't afford to miss anything. The morning light filters through my gauzy curtains and lands on my bed. My patchwork quilt is a myriad of colors fighting for recognition before me.


          Oh sure, I've always heard apples are red and bananas are yellow. Colors are not a new concept for me. But who could have understood there were so many different shades? My eyes drink in the dizzying army of colors formed by squares of woven patches. My cat, Lucy, nudges me; demanding to be the next focus of my attention. She's always demanded attention from me, but now it is like I am meeting her for the very first time. I'm meeting everything all over again. Lucy has so many details. Her fur, which I always knew was soft, is riddled with different colors and if I look closely each strand of fur reaches out to different lengths. I stare into her yellow-green eyes and her enthusiastic purr seems like an appropriate soundtrack to how I feel.

          It's wonderful to meet you, Lucy.

          I follow Lucy into the kitchen, my eyes tracing and tracking all the grains and markings of the hardwood floor beneath my feet. I reach into the fruit bowl to inspect the aforementioned apples and bananas. I turn them around and re-evaluate everything I know about fruit, from their spots to every last divot in their surface. I've always felt texture, but it's fascinating to see what it looks like when light and shadows play off of each and every angle. The automatic coffeemaker comes to life and steals my attention yet again. I watch as the translucent brown liquid pours and pools into the base of a crystal clear carafe. I could watch it all day. Nothing is mundane when you are seeing it for the first time. My whole perspective on life has literally and figuratively changed forever.

          Deciding what to wear has become a much more complicated process than before. There are so many choices. I rearrange different combinations on my bed. Finally, I bring some over to a mirror that I have never used before. I knew my bedroom set came with one, but this is the first time it's ever held a purpose for me. My actions come to a drastic halt when I see something else for the very first time.

          Me. I'm seeing me.

          I drop my clothes and reach towards the mirror. As I desperately try to memorize the details of my hair, face, and body, tears suddenly well up over my eyes. Vivid details turn into a blur of undefined colors. I quickly wipe the tears away because I'm not even close to ready to lose any part of this miraculous new gift. Not even for a moment.

          Today is going to be a very good day.
          The first time I had trouble with my vision was when I was in second grade. My teacher would use the overhead projector to show dollar bills and coins for us to count, but I could not read what was on the bills. I did not want to appear like I did not know the answer, so I kept finding excuses to walk to the front of the room to see more clearly. Question one. I went up to get a tissue from the Kleenex box by the board. Question two. I went up to throw away the aforementioned tissue. Question three. I went up to sharpen a pencil that did not need sharpening. And so on. Needless to say, my parents caught on soon enough, and I returned to school after winter break with a brand new pair of bright pink Barbie glasses.

          At first the glasses worked out fine. After the other seven-year-olds got over their giggles at my new accessory, I found myself happy that I could answer all the teacher’s questions from the confines of my own desk.

          As my prescription grew worse, however, a problem soon arose. When I was in elementary school I was an avid gymnast. I took classes twice a week and I relished in the seeing the world upside down while doing handstands and utter freedom of movement I felt while cartwheeling. But cartwheels and glasses are not exactly compatible. After the first few times my glasses flew off my face, I decided I would have to just put them away for the hour of gymnastics every few days. At first that was fine, as there is no need to read small letters or examine visual detail in gymnastics, so I flipped and tumbled in a content, if blurry, haze. But then my vision worsened. When I took off my glasses for the class, I now sometimes could not tell the face of my instructor apart from the others, and so did not know whom to follow. I also could no longer see my coach’s hand ushering me to go from the end of a long tumbling mat or to wait while she worked with another student. The incidents which resulted from this left me so embarrassed I almost felt like just quitting gymnastics altogether to avoid the future shame.

          Instead, my dad got me contacts.

          The first time I put in contact lenses, I was amazed. My world was no longer confined to only what was right in front of me, as it had been when I could only look through the glasses lens. Now not only could I see the world upside down while doing a handstand, but I could see the world around me without needing to turn my head. Not only could I do as much gymnastics as I wanted without worrying about my glasses flying off or not being able to see my instructor, the contact lenses also improved my life outside of the gym. Now, besides the moment I woke up in the morning and right before I slept at night, I could see perfectly without the constant reminder that my vision was impaired. As an actress, I had the freedom of playing any role regardless of whether or not the character had glasses. I could run through the rain without worrying about my glasses getting wet and clouding my vision. The utter freedom that I loved about cartwheeling was now matched by the utter freedom my contact lenses gave me. Without a doubt, my contact lenses changed my life for the better, and I cannot even imagine how different my life would be would without them.
          I opened my eyes and for the first time, the dark of night didn’t lead to the usual darkness that defined my days. My dreams have only ever been auditory, so this can’t possibly be a dream, can it?

          I can register “colors.” I am happy to finally see what “green” means: it’s what’s in my eyes, with flecks of orange and blue, it’s the recognizably soft feeling of the fresh-cut grass beneath my bare feet, and in the Springtime it’s somehow everywhere. Red is a sweet, delicious strawberry, it’s the rubbed skin when I break in new shoes, and a burning hot fire. Yellow is the sunshine, when I can feel that my skin is darkening, and the pleasantly energizing bite of pineapple during summer vacation. Blue is the refreshing ocean, splashing my toes, and the cool side of the pillow, flipped over in the middle of the night. Pink is the feeling in my cheeks when someone makes me happy and the smell of a newly picked bouquet from the garden. Brown is the little mushroom growing from the fallen tree, and the dirt, flat and earthy.

          My newfound sight has given me another definition for “light.” More than an object’s weight, “light,” and lack thereof, is a gradient: from black to charcoal to gray to dusky to white. Black is the silence during the night, the knowledge that everyone is safely at home in bed. Gray is the rolling thunder, booming during the cloudy rainstorm, and the chill of the glass of the window I sit next to. White is freshly washed linens, warm straight from the dryer, and melting ice cubes in my sweet iced tea.

          It’s more than the usual hearing and feeling and smelling and tasting, although those dependable abilities seem to have slightly diminished. I can touch and hear and smell and taste the outside world with my eyes, but I guess this is actually seeing. My newly opened eyes have shown me a whole other world, given me unfamiliar faces that I can look upon and recognize their connection to familiar voices. I never really knew how my nose, a small one that curves up, balanced my wide set jaw; I never fully grasped how my thick eyebrows complemented my wide, almond-shaped eyes.

          I never comprehended the physical strength of my father, who always picked me up when I fell down. His strength makes me stronger every day. I never realized the physical beauty of my mother, whom I had already pictured as the prettiest woman in the whole world. I now know that inside and out she is better than I am. I can see my parents’ emotions for the first time. I recognize the familiar happy warmth of their voices, and I can pair those with the crinkles outside their eyes. I can see how overjoyed they are that I can finally see.
          My name is Genevieve McCarthy, and I am a dancer. Many people would be confused about what an essay about dancing has to do with contact lenses, but anyone who is a dancer with horribly bad vision understands completely how relevant and life changing contact lenses are for a serious dancer.

          I’ve been dancing for 11 years, and I needed my first pair of glasses when I was nine years old. Initially, this posed no problem for me as a dancer, and in fact improved my performance dramatically, because I could actually see precisely what my dance teacher was teaching! However, as the classes got more advanced and the turns got faster, my glasses were flying across the room at every rehearsal! Stopping the dance and sprinting to grab them before a fellow dancer crushed them by accident was a huge hassle and wicked scary since you never knew if your glasses were going to make it out alive or not. Once in dance class, they flew right off my face and were crushed by an unsuspecting dancer and my parents had to dish out hundreds of dollars to buy me another pair immediately since I can hardly see anything without them!

          The summer after sophomore year, I was a dancer in my first pre-professional production at Boston Children’s Theatre. At this point, I still had glasses. But halfway through the rehearsal process I knew that I needed to get contacts before the show opened because, first of all, the dance was insane and there was no way my glasses were staying on my face during the show and I also can’t dance without them without either crashing into someone or dancing right off the stage. Additionally, I was getting older and, being 4’10”, I looked really young with my glasses and wanted to be able to show off my face and look my age. So, after lots of begging my parents, I got my first contact lenses in August 2014, only a week before the show opened.

          My first dance rehearsal with contact lenses is one I will never forget. I have never felt more confident in my life not just about my appearance, but also about my dancing. I danced with zero inhibitions now that I didn’t have to stress out about my glasses going flying. I received so many compliments about how my dancing was transformed in this show, how much more confident, happy, and powerful I was in my dance. Being able to turn as fast as necessary and swing my body and face without worrying about anything changed me as a performer. Even off the stage, I feel twice as confident about my appearance and thankfully, look closer to my actual age now.

          Contact lenses transformed me as a performer and as a person. Now, as I am pursuing a degree in Musical Theatre with a concentration in dance, I am ready to dance harder than I ever have before in college with no worries about my vision. Contacts gave me the confidence to dance with no stress about glasses as I did for so many years before contacts, and I know I would not be the performer I am today without them.
          Eye contact is a crucial part of communication for three primary reasons. First, eye contact demonstrates self-confidence; second, it indicates respect toward the other person; and third, the eyes convey many emotions that words do not. In this age of technology, fewer parents teach their offspring how to improve their conversational skills through making eye contact. The art of eye contact is being lost as the population reverts to emails, texting, and other direct messaging instead of preparing in-person meetings. The few face to face interactions that still exist could very well improve through making eye contact for these three reasons.

          First and foremost, eye contact during interactions with others displays a great deal about your personality. Eye contact exhibits self-confidence: that you believe in yourself and are not afraid to hold a conversation. Eye contact also suggests that you have received an education. Whether you are well versed in the topic of the conversation or not, you will respond intelligently. Eye contact denotes that you offer logical answers or sensible questions without blubbering. Engaging eye contact during interpersonal exchanges also shows that you are approachable. When eye contact is sustained during conversations, others see you as confident, intelligent, and approachable.

          Eye contact also shows respect to others; especially to an elder or individual in a position of authority. Making eye contact with elders or people of authority shows that you acknowledge their authority and that you respect them. People of authority, such as a parent, teacher, employer, or political leader, are more likely to remain calm and collected in a conversation if they feel respected. Eye contact is an important and easy way to make others feel respected. It also shows that you are invested in the conversation, understand and process all the information, and are not allowing yourself to be distracted.

          Lastly, eye contact plays a large role in reading emotions. The eyes convey appreciation for gifts, words, or deeds when words cannot. Making eye contact can allow a person to express pain, sadness, hate, or anger. In contrast, many people find eye contact to be an effortless way to convey excitement, joy, and love. A popular proverb says, “The eyes are the windows to the soul” and rightly so. When the soul is troubled, the eyes often express the struggle. When the soul is jubilant, the eyes communicate the joy when the rest of the body cannot. Eye contact is an important component to interpersonal communication because much emotion can be lost when the eyes cannot express the emotions the soul feels.

          Despite being so important to conversation, eye contact is often lost in a sea of emails and text messages. Through cell phones and computers, personality is hidden, respect is feigned, and emotions are lost. I believe eye contact is critical in conversation because it displays self-confidence, respect, and emotions and feelings that words themselves cannot express.
          Eye contact is almost a lost art in today’s society. With cell phone culture taking over the western world, young people are more and more being found “multitasking”, that is to half-listen while checking twitter, instagram, snapchat, or any of the other plethora of social media sites and applications. I believe that making direct eye contact shows that you are listening, is a sign of confidence, and can help you understand conversational subtext often lost when looking elsewhere.

          When you make eye contact with a person, you show them you are listening. If your eyes are on them your ears will most likely follow. Making eye contact is a sign of undivided attention and shows that you respect a person enough to pay attention. Looking at a cell phone or off into space not only displays to the person you are talking to that you are not listening, but that you clearly have better things to do than listen to whatever they are talking about.

          Confidence is key to success. Nothing shows confidence like looking someone in the eye when you talk. Looking into someone’s eyes when you talk to them lets them know what you are saying has value and they should listen. In a job interview eye contact is what possible employers expect to see. Giving eye contact shows that you are not afraid of a person and that you view them as an equal. In historic civilizations making eye contact with rulers was actually disrespectful because of how eye contact is in a way putting yourself on equal ground with another person. It is also common knowledge making eye contact with animals is a sign of dominance. Even in the animal kingdom eye contact is a sign of confidence.

          In conversations, looking at someone can give many things away. Body language and nonverbal communications are ways to catch on when people are trying to say things other than what they actually say. But the most important form of nonverbal communication is eye contact. The eyes are sometimes called the key to the heart and this is not without reason. Looking into a person’s eye can tell you things they are thinking and how they feel without them having to say a word. This is immeasurably useful, as it can help you identify when friends are sad and need help, when people are lying, and many other things.

In conclusion eye contacts is very important. It has many applications to increase the quality of a person’s life, including helping you become a better friend and helping you achieve respect from others. I think that we all could take a look at how we much we actually value eye contact.
          I fluttered my eyes open, expecting to be greeted by the usual darkness that embraced me every morning when I woke. I was born blind, and usually I ignored the snide comments and pity people gave to me because I honestly did not think sight was that necessary. I knew the sun was shining based on the warm rays that hit my face not by the bright lights that my friends and family described. Darkness was a part of my life, and in many ways, it defined who I was as a person. This morning everything changed.

          I was immediately struck by a blurry, bright beam that consumed my vision. Rising from my bed, I was overwhelmed by the colors and shapes that surrounded me. I could hear the waves crashing on the rocks and smell the salt in the air, but never before had I actually “seen” the beach. I cautiously heaved a pile of sand into my hands and noticed the small, crystallized structure and the differences in the shape of each grain. The ocean waves then demanded my attention. My friends had told me of blue waves, but of course, I never knew what this color was; after seeing the blue waves that prodded me closer by its sly game of tag, I decided blue was my favorite color. I closed my eyes to return to familiarity of darkness, but I quickly felt the heat of the sun on my face and opened my eyes to witness this star that I had only dreamt about. I was surprised by the brightness of the sun and had to shut my eyes before the waves of light overtook me.

          It was then that I heard the voices of people behind me. While I did not recognize the faces, the voices were sounds that I had heard all of my life and had soothed me during my lowest times and laughed with me at my greatest moments. My parents stood before me just a few steps away, not wanting to scare me or overwhelm my senses. I suddenly found my vision becoming blurry again, and quickly brushed my eyes thinking the treasure that I was gifted with a few short moments ago was already being taken away. My eyelashes were wet. I was crying. The people I had loved my whole life and had learned to recognize by the inflections in their voice and loud laughter was standing right before me. My mother had a grin that lit up her entire face and was shedding tears. On the other hand, my father stood with a soft smile and tears glistening in his eyes. I quickly closed the distance between us, and my family embraced me.

          While I was cherishing the moment, I thought about what sight actually meant. It was true, I never did miss seeing anything, but I did not know how it felt to see your mother’s face and realize that she had the same, unruly raven dark hair that you did. I did not know that the waves were a color so beautiful that it could entrance you into just sitting peacefully at the beach for hours on end. Many people did not understand those of us that lived our worlds in darkness, having to identify objects not by the vibrant colors or shape, but by the texture and description of others. It was in that moment that I realized the power of vision. Sight was a gift.
          The interaction between people is a skill that is often executed in ways that are inefficient and impersonal. It’s a societal ailment that is holding us back as an entire race with respect to communication and the transfer of ideas and thoughts. I witness this every day, whether it be from my teenage peers, fellow adults, coaches, etc. I will be the first to admit that I was once guilty of this terrible habit, however once I altered my methods of interaction, I noticed a substantial change in the quality of speech and how my messages were received. Eye contact may seem like such a small, senseless factor of interaction, however, its effect is truly monumental.

          I can sympathize for those who suffer from avoiding eye contact during interacting with others, I was there at one point in my life. I would be the one to gaze at my feet, stare off into the distance, or act busy just so I wouldn’t have to feel the dreaded uncomfortable eye contact. I went through much of my childhood inhibiting myself from a quality conversation simply because I didn’t want to be uncomfortable. That all changed though when I was called out by a role model of mine for selfish manners. Once I was called out, I realized something revolutionary. It was much worse being called out in public for not making eye contact, than actually making eye contact! It was such a simple idea that had a great impact on me, it opened the door to effective conversations for me, and that is an invaluable asset to have.

          Since my revelation of eye contact, I have noticed nothing but an abundance of benefits. I truly believe it goes hand in hand with confidence, which is another important tool in interacting with others. Once you get past the dreaded eye contact, you are on your way to successful communication! I noticed that by making eye contact, you demand a certain amount of a respect from your audience, and that leads them to really connect and analyze what you are saying on a personal level. When you look at someone in their eyes when talking, you witness an indescribable feeling and connection that you otherwise would not have made. With eye contact, you feel conversations on an entirely new level. You not only hear what others are saying, but you feel it within you. The interaction reaches a higher degree of compassion and respect in that by looking someone in the eyes, you can actually see how they feel as they tell their story, which ultimately allows you to formulate an appropriate response. There is no mathematical formula to determine just how effective eye contact is, however, I can say that once you have a conversation with complete eye contact, you will realize just how revolutionary it is.

          This skill of eye contact is one that undoubtedly needs to be reinforced and preached to everyone. We have gone too long ignoring the impersonal and selfish habits of shoe staring, distance gazing individuals. Our communication and interactions as an entire society can benefit immensely from moving past the discomfort of eye contact.

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