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Coronavirus news and updates about the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Behind Masks, Our Eyes Say A Lot

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Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

By now it's a familiar sight -- images of health care workers, their faces mostly hidden by a mask. Mark Rumsey, a former host of WFAE’s "All Things Considered," sees these workers every day in his new career as a hospital chaplain-in-training. As he says in this commentary, Rumsey has been paying close attention to what the masks can't conceal.

I’ve always been intrigued by eyes. The eyes of a baseball pitcher, locked in concentration, searching for a sign, and a target. The eyes of a cat, full of contentment, and mystery. The eyes of blossoming or, well-seasoned love gazing back, in silent agreement. 

Lately, I’ve been gaining a fresh appreciation for the expressive power of the human eye. On the hospital campus where I work, almost every pair of eyes these days "peers out" over the top of a surgical or other protective mask. As I cross paths with nurses, cleaning personnel, doctors, and others, we often exchange glances across our masks. In part, these passing visual exchanges are a way of saying, “We’re in this together,” and “We’ll get through it.”

But I’m noticing something else about this increased emphasis on eye contact. I’m discovering that the eyes have a wonderful way of conveying what is invisible behind the mask. Often, and most delightfully – a smile. Our eyes can also illuminate a host of other emotions – anxiety, fear, frustration, or concern.

Shakespeare – among others – is credited with observing that "the eyes are the window to the soul." Maybe that’s one reason I’ve never been a fan of sunglasses. We lose so much, when we put "shade" between our eyes.

Just beneath our eyes, many of us in all walks of life these days are strapping on a mask for our mutual protection. That just makes good sense. Yes, the masks are a nuisance. But in some strange way, I’m grateful for them. Not only to help us face the coronavirus with full armor. But also, for directing my attention back, to the "windows" – where I can see subtle clues into the souls of those around me. 

One day, our masks will come off. But when they do, I’m hoping to not lose sight of the beauty, magic, and mystery of our eyes. They are a gift – with the dual capacity to absorb and emit.

Today – more than ever – the world needs this gift. Honest eyes. Empathetic eyes. Affirming eyes. During and after this pandemic, we need eyes that understand, eyes that care, and yes – eyes, that smile. 

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