There are a lot of things we’re adjusting to in this new normal of social distancing and facemasks. Most of them are inconvenient or downright annoying, but I think it’s good for us to try and do our part in an effort to look out for each other
There is one thing, though. A bit of a silver lining that’s emerged for me during this crazy time. It’s a way of communicating that I’ve kind of neglected since my kids were too young to talk. It’s a signal of what’s going on with people even if their faces are mostly covered.
I’m looking at people’s eyes more than ever.
When my kids were little, I’d hold them close and just stare into their eyes. It was a powerful way of just being “with” them. Of course, they had other ways of letting you know how they were doing … those hungry cries, or that smell when their diaper had reached maximum capacity (that’s what the 15-18 pounds meant on the diaper box, right?). But when their bellies were full and their diapers were empty, they’d talk to me with their eyes.
I’ve been on Sabbatical from my position as Lead Pastor in a local church. During that time, I’ve be serving as a Hospice Chaplain. More than half of my patients suffer from the brutal disease known as Alzheimer’s. It breaks my heart to sit with a patient who has been non-verbal for five years, yet they live at home with their spouse of more than 50 years. Can you imagine seeing, feeding, dressing, and speaking to the person you love more than anyone else in the world, but they don’t talk back, or even know who you are?
But I’ve learned something from caregivers. Those patients DO communicate. It’s in their eyes.
They may not recognize loved ones, but they will recognize a song, or the smell of a favorite dish, or some other expression of recognition will cross their mind and light up their eyes. It’s amazing because for that moment, you see who they really are, as Charlotte Bronte observed, “The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter – often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter – in the eye.”
So in this new normal of faces covered with ever more ornately patterned and blinged out masks, I’m rediscovering what Shakespeare called the “window to the soul,” or what Jesus of Nazareth referred to as the “lamp of the body.” I can tell now when someone is smiling behind their mask … or not, and I’m finding a whole new vocabulary of language in people’s eyes.
So, let’s be deliberate in this opportunity to really “see” one another. Why bother? Henry David Thoreau answers that question with a profound question of his own, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” Why bother, you ask? Because there’s so much to learn, to discover, to appreciate, and to value life in people’s eyes. There’s a story behind every set of eyes you see above those masks we wear, whether they’re the physical masks we’re required to put on, or the other ones our insecurities make us think we need to put on.
Look to the eyes.