What We Miss When We're Masked
Mary Laura Philpott 玛丽·劳拉·菲尔波特
few months into the coronavirus pandemic， I started seeing a new physical therapist for my cranky back. His name is Matt. But I might not be able to pick Matt's face out of a photo lineup， because I've never seen more than his eyes and forehead. He probably wouldn't recognize a picture of me either; we've both been masked for the entirety of our acquaintance.
With the exception of my immediate family， when I see people these days， I see only the slice of face between their hairline and the bridge of their nose. I miss seeing people's faces. Their whole faces.
Many socially distanced citizens the world over now understand the concept of skin hunger， the mental and physical malaise that comes from going too long without being touched.
But what about face hunger？ English has a word for something similar: Pareidolia means seeing familiar shapes in unfamiliar objects， including seeing faces where none exist. That's what happens when you look at a cloud and see a cherub-cheeked smile， or when you spy Jesus in your toast. It's why I imagine my car's front grill and headlights are grinning at me. Our brains interpret lines， curves， and shadows as faces so often because they're constantly scanning for meaning， and faces mean a lot to us humans.
Seeing family and friends' faces virtually on FaceTime is far better than nothing， but I'd rather see their living， breathing faces in real time. Like a lot of people， I have a case of screen fatigue. My eyes are tired of two-dimensional digital approximations of people， and Zoom meetings often feel like group staring contests. Paradoxically， the technology that purports to bring us closer also flattens our likenesses and drains them of life.
There's a reason people say “It's so good to see your face！” and not “It's so good to see your elbows！” As poets had been writing about for centuries before Charles Darwin wrote The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals， faces showcase our feelings and personalities.
Our brains are wired to detect faces. I suspect that's why I have unexpectedly come to love the magnifying mirror in my bathroom， an “amenity”I swore until recently I would never own. But after four decades of reliable eyesight， my perfect vision evaporated. My friends had warned me that middle age would bring farsightedness， but I had no idea it could happen seemingly overnight. One day， I bought a pair of fuchsia-framed reading glasses at the drugstore， and I installed a makeup mirror on a stainless-steel arm over my bathroom sink.
I didn't time my blurry vision to coincide with our current era of face deprivation. It just happened that way. But my longing for faces makes me greet my own with extra interest and kindness. It feels good to see and be seen in return—always， but especially when separated from the rest of humanity. We need to lay eyes on one another just like we need to lay hands on one another. Being unable to do so creates a particular kind of yearning， even grief. Say what you will about the ending of Cast Away; to me，the saddest scene in the movie comes when Wilson the volleyball floats away， leaving Tom Hanks sobbing for his friend with the face made from a handprint.
Who knows when it will be safe to bare all our facial features to the world again？ Until then，
I continue to look more closely at not just my own face but other people's faces， even masked. From six feet away， I zero in on what the mask doesn't cover—the color of eyelashes， the curve of earlobes. I see details， pores， tiny pulsing movements， all telegraphing the truth that we are each so strong， so delicate， so singular. You can see it if you really look:We are all so alive.