Feeling the stares

I get a lot of looks everywhere I go, and I have accepted that it is unavoidable. After all, I dress like this:

Taken with NightCap Pro

I mean, really, this isn’t normal attire, so therefore staring must be normal. Or is it?

It is commonly accepted social etiquette that “staring is rude”. But this kind of social rule generally applies to strangers and still needs context before it is considered rude.

Here’s some examples of how staring is not rude:

Staring at a performer or a speaker on stage (actually, it’s rude to deliberately stare away). Staring at your secret crush while you’re lost in dreamland (although embarrassing in that middle-school way if you’re caught). Staring at the shoulder of the person standing in front of you on the bus (where else are you supposed to stare?).

I’ll let you be the Rudeness Judge of some other examples:

Staring at a paraplegic in a wheelchair. Staring at a parent trying to calm their autistic child. Staring at the only person of a different ethnicity in the crowd.

Staring at a masked man walking into the bank?

I don’t know if it’s rude or not, and I honestly don’t care if it is. I’ve got bigger things to worry about than deciding whether or not strangers are adhering to cultural protocol. Where do I have to situate my hat on my head in relation to the sun? What temperature is it, and did I drink enough water today to avoid dehydration? Have I overexposed myself by making this trip, and am I going to have an attack later? I also think about “normal stuff” when I go to the bank. Is this paycheck going to cover all my bills this week? When am I finally going to break free of debt once and for all? What about saving for Christmas, birthday parties, college funds, emergencies, and home upkeep?

With all this going on in my head, you may wonder if I even notice all the gawking. Yes, I do. I make an effort to be aware of people around me due to past experiences.

So this begs the questions that I was recently asked: how do I feel when I notice people stare at me who otherwise leave me alone?

There is no one answer, and my feelings on the matter vary from day to day. How I react inside reflects on some factors unique to my condition, like the sun brightness, the ambient temperature, and my exposure time. But the most contributing factors are things like my mood, my stress level at home and work, and the internal dialogue of mentally reliving my more recent personal successes and failures. You know, like one of those normal people.

Sometimes I am defiantly indifferent at someone’s blatant gaze, sort of like a macho, “I don’t even give a (watch your tongue, young man)!”

Other times, I’m mildly amused and interested at the wide range of reactions I get, from the apprehension of adults, to the innocent curiosity of little children, to the brazenness of teenage showoffs, to the flabbergasted looks from peers that clearly say “What the (watch your tongue, young man) was that?!”

It is common for me to withdraw into that hateful, secret place of self-blame that we all hide deep within ourselves. There, the stares can help all the (watch your tongue, young man) in life to drag me down.

In reaction to paying a mental visit to that secret place, sometimes I direct little bit of grouchiness at everything: the people staring, my wife and kids, my sun gear, even laughable things like the way the road or sidewalk was constructed, the radio station that has played only the same 50 songs repeatedly since the 80s, or the very sun itself for even existing: “You stupid (watch your tongue, young man) sun!”

But when I am in a place of mental peace, the stares, although felt, roll off my shoulders like water in a warm rainstorm: there, but cool and pleasant and barely noticed as part of my life. Walking the street with my family, my children giggling and questioning at everything, my wife smiling and chattering, breathes deep into my soul the fuel to become a better man, bespeaks the trust that who I am will see my family through their hardships, and moves me to reach through the stares for the stars.

At times like this, I don’t have to watch my tongue, young man.

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