The decision to wear or not wear a mask during this pandemic has become a painful point of controversy. The main challenge for me, however, is feeling that others may not know that I am smiling at them.
This always reminds me of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1896 poem, “We Wear the Mask.” It was later adapted by Maya Angelou into a spoken-word poem extending Dunbar’s expression of the pain hidden by people of color in order to survive. The face masks we wear now, though unrelated to racism, still present the challenge of seeing the full face of another person behind a covering that leaves only the eyes exposed.
However, a related lesson learned from one of my students has remained close to my heart for decades. It was near the end of the school year when my relationship with the students was established to the point that we could joke with one another periodically. He wanted my attention, but I was trying to convince him that I didn’t like him, so he should leave me alone. He said, “Oh, Ms. Perry, we know you love us. We can see it in your eyes!”
And it is behind the masks that hide the pain we feel from time to time as caregivers, that our eyes will also let our loved ones know how we truly feel about them. Hopefully, they will see our smiling eyes.