The other day, I sat across a desk from a married couple. I’m in sales, they were clients. All three of us had masks on.
I could not see their mouths or stare at their teeth or the way their lips formed words, but I was able to look into their eyes. As I got to know them, I was entranced by the pain and confusion in the woman’s eyes, and by the kindness and love pulsing in waves from the husband’s.
When they left, they removed their masks outside. I was caught off guard. The looked like strangers once again. Faces unfamiliar.
But I remember those eyes and the stories they told.
Most of the stories we get now are found in the feed: the news feed, social media feed, and YouTube. We suck down stories of people like we eat popcorn at a movie. Over and over; this person did it, that person’s life, what would it feel like, is that how you do it? These lives are put up on a pedestal for us to leer at, pick apart, judge and mimic. A few paint strokes to describe the obvious, to interpret the unknowable, and yet, these tales are consumed, hook line and sinker, even though everyone knows that what’s on the outside does not reflect what’s on the inside.
Have you ever experienced a family member or coworker misinterpreting your statements, intentions, actions? Even when your actions seemed so obviously self evident to you? How then can we possibly believe that a canted creation online in any form represents the truth of what is actually happening behind shuttered eyelids? Or that an influencer’s representation of their life is not just a professional photo shoot? Yet we read these articles and posts as if they are truth and not fiction, teased and coerced into the bright pasture of a story in which we gawk and squawk. We’ll retell it as fact, embellishing and skipping details, of which even those were painted by night.
Who is aware of this? Who puts down the phone and declares, today I do not read the painted stories of others? As trails of click bait headlines scroll past, attempting to capture the weak beating wings of the mothy mind, we are at once feeling informed by these wee strings of words, and yet only barely escaping with our wits intact. Later it can be discovered, these words have imparted a plasticky sheen on our impression of the world. Simply knowing it is a ploy does not then erase the shadow of fantasy that has been etched into the glasses through which we view the world.
Many of us are guilty of sharing facts and figures gleaned from the web, from the phone, and from the feed, as if they are gospel. This is the feed we are fed, the words now in our head, a choice of where to make our bed. Hundreds dead. A child without a head. Mysteriously multiplying bread. What was it that he said? A thousand astray were led. She defecated in his bed.
Is it better to look away, or to consume as an innocent baby bird being fed the deliciously squirmy worm, or to gaze through a glass darkly? How much must be consumed until it is known truly? Do the facts matter or are juicy tidbits enough to quench the thirst for a sense of belonging? How truly do people know so much after reading so little?
Sometimes, I catch myself being content with the space around me. The sound of my family in the halls, through the walls, their beautiful faces and the ringing sound of laughter. I stare at the eyes of strangers in the grocery store, and at the park. I strike up a conversation and really look at them. Now that their faces are masked, I’m swept away in their eyes. These beautiful eyes have been hiding in plain sight, yet are now front and center, exposed and highlighted between the forehead and the mask. What is their story?
There are real lives and real stories all around us. See what stories are being told by the eyes around you. It’s a generic substitute for the addictive feed, I know, but it just might give you a genuine taste of life.