The look in her eyes

In the library’s story room the music came on, my daughter took my hand, and she and I and twenty-some other kids and adults started dancing. Aster grinned and laughed. She loves to dance, loves to move. As long as I’ve known her, I’ve known that my daughter finds so much joy in moving for the sheer sake of moving.

Then I saw it.

On a row of chairs beside us, a little girl, maybe five years old, sat next to a woman. In that little girl’s brown eyes, I saw the look.

The lonely wish.

Wanting to dance with someone, but having no one to dance with. Wanting to be part of a group, but not sure you could ever belong and afraid of being turned away. And no one welcoming you in.

It’s a look I knew my entire childhood. To see it, I only had to look in the mirror.

In some ways, my childhood loneliness forged me. It helped me dive deep inside my mind, creating rich worlds full of fascinating people. But that loneliness also came with a deep, longing pain.

I don’t feel that pain anymore. Those hurts healed long ago, and I know where I belong.

But I will never forget that look. That feeling.

So when I saw the look in that little girl’s eyes, I squeezed Aster’s hand and told her what I thought we should do. She nodded, and we danced over to the little girl.

“This is Aster, and I’m her dad, Anthony,” I said. I held out my other hand. “Would you like to dance with us?”

The little girl nodded, then looked at the woman next to her, who smiled and gave a nod.

The three of us danced for the rest of the song. The lonely look in the little girl’s eyes faded, replaced by a shine and a bright smile.

After the song finished the little girl went back to her chair. But she stayed smiling.

When you know loneliness and come out the other side, you learn something: To recognize that lonely look in the eyes of another. To raise an open hand. To welcome them in.

Because you know what it is when no one else will. So you become the person who does.