The Eyes Have It

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Before anyone corrects me, I go on record that I know the archaic phrase should read “the ayes have it,” and that the phrase is now only used when a verbal vote is taken. “All in favor say ‘aye’.” But hear me out.

For those of us who care about our health and the health of others, we smartly wear our face masks. And some people around us complain that they can’t really tell what we are saying because our words are muffled. 

While I’ve long been someone who believes that we are not what we say, but what we do, I also think that talking is over-rated. Listening is by far the better skill. And do you know how someone can tell if you are listening? They can see it in your eyes.

In 2020, “eye” contact became the new firm handshake. Thanks to COVID, extending your hand in greeting is no longer safe. But wearing a mask does not stop you from looking someone in the eye. Smile under that mask. Feel your eyes twinkle and project the feeling that goes along with the saying “have a nice day” without ever opening your mouth.

Wearing a mask does not stop you from looking someone in the eye. Smile under that mask.

When my mother was in her 81st year, the only part of her Parkinson’s wracked body that she could move were her eyes. When she was sad, they looked down cast with a tiny tear. When she was happy, the corners of her eyes wrinkled. When she was delighted, they sparkled. The sparkling eyes came whenever her grandsons visited.

When I was a child, my mother’s eyes were all powerful and all-knowing. One glance in my direction from my mother with her famous “evil eye” meant she knew exactly what I was doing and I’d better stop it if I knew what was good for me. 

With one look into my eyes she knew how I was feeling. She knew if I was coming down with a cold, which in my case could lead to pneumonia, before I did. She knew when I was about to run a fever or have an allergic reaction. How? She saw it in my eyes.

When I grew older I began to notice the dark circles under her eyes that meant she wasn’t sleeping…again. Years later I would have those same dark circles for the same reasons. While my mother found comfort in praying to Saint Jude, I found comfort in buying “Saint” Estee Lauder’s under eye concealer, presenting the world with an award-winning performance of strength, confidence, and courage, none of which laid below the surface of my cosmetic foundation. 

Being a fairly private person when it comes to my mental and physical health, I knew I could always count on my “It’s Show Time” persona to carry me through a rough patch. Most people never noticed the pain and grief behind my eyes. Even to this day, few people know my true feelings. Why? Because they don’t look into my eyes. I don’t fault them. I think they fear they might see a reflection that could mirror back their own feelings or lay bare the cracks in my foundation. Either way , it’s scary, and best not to notice.

As a writer I’ve studied the art of writing about the eyes. Eyes sparkle, twinkle, roll, or study. They open wide. They narrow, glare, accuse, plead, gaze, stare, pierce, tear, and close. They shoot daggers…“If looks could kill.”

Those who struggle through grief often outwardly demonstrate a persona of “self-control.” They steel themselves for the inevitable, well-meaning, but utterly stupid comments like “he’s in a better place.” Or “god wanted another angel.” Or “at least you had a few good years with her.”

Their body language says, “I can handle this.” But a quick check of their eyes would tell you they are not okay. Perhaps people don’t take a hard look at those who grieve because they don’t want to see how someone is feeling. Much easier to say “Well, she said she was fine.” And then simply walk away. 

Is noticing what’s behind someone’s eyes a superpower? Or a creative skill that needs practice?

In my opinion creativity comes from observation, experience, and imagination. To build upon the “Eyes Have It” skill, challenge yourself. Put on your N95 mask and check in the mirror. Now smile. Do you see your eyes light up?  Practice until you do.

Next time you see someone laughing, look into their eyes. Can you see the mirth that lives behind the laugh? When a person smiles beneath their mask, can you see the corners of their eyes glow? 

There was a time when it was my daily goal to make at least one person who looked sad or unhappy, smile back at me. Now with human interaction at a minimum, and I’m living in a new place where I know few people and few people know me, I seem to have lost that skill, especially when wearing a mask. Most people just look the other way.

I could say something sappy like “Look Away” – A Metaphor for 2020. 

Instead I offer another metaphor. One that also applies to 2021. A metaphor that encourages smiling because clearly, no matter the year, the “Eyes Have It.”

Artwork “Eyes” by Mary Pohlmann. Visit her at


  1. Neil Beresin says:

    I love this one, Elizabeth — thank you for it!

  2. Thank you! This resonated with me, as I’ve been a Grief Therapist for over thirty years. Throughout 2020-2021, there’s been a new constant battle with the often painful amount of push I have to endure in order to present my “show time” face for my clients, colleagues, friends and family. It seems that my stress is rarely relieved these days. I am well known in my area, so I cannot easily find an objective mentor to help guide this “expert” through my own struggles. Thank you for sharing your writing.

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