For all of her adult years, my 91 year old aunt has relied on her trademark red lipstick (Revlon’s #440–Cherries in the Snow) and inviting bright blue eyes to disarm people. Of all the inconveniences put upon her these days (limited to her apartment in an independent living complex, unable to see her family, daily worries concerning her dwindling wine supply), it’s wearing her mask that peeves her the most. Concealing her lipstick, fogging glasses blurring her eyes, her secret weapons–lips and eyes–hidden as she attempts to navigates this new world.
“Damn mask,” she says.
Couple her thoughts with the one I had the other day while standing in a long check-out line at Home Depot’s garden center. Everyone, of course, wore masks and, with only their eyes to go by, I found myself making snap judgments about their characters. For example, the man with the bushy brows nearly obscuring his small dark eyes seemed a shade menacing. Or the obviously confident young woman before me who, despite it being 7:30 in the morning, had framed her wide-set eyes with an envious slash of black liner and underscored a sense of mystery with a swipe of light smokey gray shadow across her lids.
Always dubious about my snap judgments, I spent the half hour it took for my turn at the cash register to look up on my phone what your face tells the world about you. Turns out a lot. Masks that hide the lower portion of our faces make us uneasy because they deny a full picture of what our character and state of mind might be. If you can’t fully identify someone then you don’t know how to react to them. If you don’t know how to react, your fear mechanism ramps up.
My job requires a lot of wandering around looking for things to write about. A natural introvert to the core, I’ve spent years learning how to comfortably accost people in a way that will make them soon trust me enough to divulge intimate details of their daily life. I owe a lot of my skills to my aunt’s lessons on how to lower someone’s guard with a charming smile and humorous eyes. Lips, especially emblazoned with Revlon’s #440 Cherries in the Snow, entice; eyes engage. Together they impress upon a stranger an inviting sense of warmth and trust. I’m not always successful–the person who I’ve intruded upon sizes me up, too. That’s okay, though. We’ve still made enough of a connection that could lead into a story.
I forgot my mask in the car last week when I suddenly appeared in Gregory’s garden.
“Where’s your mask?” Gregory yelled at me.
I ran back to retrieve it but by then he had gotten a good look at me. When I returned he admitted that, for a lot of reasons, a white woman popping up in a black neighborhood isn’t always the most welcomed sight.
“You got a nice smile, though,” he said. I straightened my mask over nose, mouth and chin and he let me in to his garden for a good long talk.
Back at Home Depot’s garden center the bushy brow man’s arms surrounded buckets of lavender and Russian sage. He also had a distinguished deep voice, making it very easy to eavesdrop on the conversation he proceeded to have with his companion. He described to her with delightful relish the curved path he’d make for her that afternoon.
“You’re going to smell lavender and sage together when you walk by,” he told her.
When it was time for the young woman before me to pay she started hesitating over which annuals and herbs in her wagon she really wanted, dithering between marjoram and Italian oregano.
“You think marigolds are a good idea?” She asked the cashier.
“I don’t know,” he mumbled through his mask, already, at 8 a.m. tuckered out. He went ahead and scanned the marigolds, the young woman’s eyeliner and gray shadow obviously not generating much concern about her capabilities.
A true cornavirus teachable moment, this half hour standing in line at Home Depot surrounded by a (6 feet apart) masked congregation. No more snap judgments on what may lie behind the eyes for me.
And so, let’s now praise masks, an emblem for how much the people behind them care about you and the world we live in together. Please wear yours to show you care, too.