MY COMMONPLACE BOOK(a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader)
“By the time a man is 50, he has the face he deserves.” —George Orwell
“. . . an untidy, preoccupied woman, whose face was beginning to take on the shape of the thoughts and emotions she had lived through, in place of the likeness of heredity with which it had been born.” —Nadine Gordimer, Occasion for Loving (1960)
Orwell was great for making cruel, well-targeted thrusts, but, in this case, I prefer Gordimer’s less judgmental comment. We’ve all known people whose skin remains smooth and unmarked. The result of genetic luck? Or simple indifference to the suffering of others?
I once knew a man who had such a face. He attracted friends and lovers, who limped away from their relationship with him, wounded emotionally as he went on smiling obliviously. I know a fragile-looking woman who, always trembling on the brink of tears, bemoans her “sensitivity,” yet tosses off insensitive, denigrating remarks in all directions, without noticing the winces of those she pierces with her words.
My heart goes out to one woman whose face has settled into lines that some people misread as haughty disapproval. She has been judged arrogant, but I’ve known her for years and watched her face slowly stiffen into a mask to hide her grief for the death of a son she never mentions. (Because, in our culture, after a year or so, we’re expected to “get over” things and “get on with life.” The tragic view of life is definitely out of fashion.)
How can anyone claim the ability to “read” faces in a world where faces mask so much unspoken suffering?
(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book)