A young man finds himself staring, once again, at the face of the person sitting next to him. Where does this strange habit come from? He wonders. Is it from being raised in foster homes? Is it from having to stay by his blind grandfather? Or is it both?
It’s very natural to scan people from head to toe, thoroughly and carefully. Their choice of words, tone of voice, facial expressions, and overall body language are a household of information. The vibes we pick up from them will either confirm personal assumptions or question unfounded stereotypes. In both cases, their main job is to add a subjective imprint to the newly collected data.
‘This person seems safe. The other one looks obnoxious. That one sounds narrow-minded. The one over there must be a pervert…’. An inner dialogue like this one will definitely steer the rest of the dialogue and ultimately determine the course of the social interaction.
The twenty-four-year-old in Kawabata’s story thinks of human faces as a roadmap without which he’s totally lost. In fact, he expresses himself clearly when he says he finds it ‘painful’ not to ‘look into the faces’ of those around him. True! It surely is frightening and upsetting to be out of information, unprepared, and out of backup plans.
It’s also very common to lose ourselves in fantasy when the appearance of the person facing us says nothing or says a lot.
And with grandpa obediently sitting in one place and blindly looking around like a stray pet, things become more lyrical. When that face says nothing, what we do is kill time together with his grandson. And when it says a lot, what we have on our hands is a mystic inner life that may very well be abundant beyond our wildest imagination.
Being someone with special needs doesn’t mean being an imbecile. Would a reasonable man forsake the sun’s warmth only to sink in the shadows? No, not even an imbecile would do that! Grandpa’s eyes always seem to follow the sun. Along with the contemplative grandson we wonder as we gaze at that silent face. Does a sunny place look brighter to a blind person? Does illumination occur in the dark? If yes, what imprint does it leave on the white canvas of the human mind? What do blind people see?
There’s another angle to the story. It comes from a shy young woman. “My face will become less and less novel with each day and night,” she said when she felt like comforting the young man.
To this sweet soul I say, when we look at someone, we see two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. When we look into someone, we see love, hate, liveliness, emptiness happiness, sadness, etc. Our physical appearance may not change overnight, but our spirit will always shapeshift under the veil of the skin, like clouds in the sky.
When we peer into a horizon like this one, there’s no room for boredom. On the contrary, the passing clouds will always keep us busy. ‘Do we make them happy? Do they trust us? Are they hurting inside? What do they think of when they fall silent? Are these dreams and hopes that make their eyes glitter?’ etc.
Indeed, looking into someone isn’t the same thing as looking at someone. The deeper we look beneath the surface, the more humane we become. Once they pick up these vibes, everyone around us will start to feel better and safer, which gives them the desire to shed the cold veneer, remove the social mask, and show their true colors. How wonderful would that be!
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