This year, I am grateful for the lesson I learned about focus. This lesson didn’t come from taking a class or watching “how-to” videos about focus. This lesson did not come from talking to a therapist about my need to focus because of distractions. This lesson came from Virginia’s COVID-19 face mask mandate.
Masks force me to focus on people’s eyes with a newfound intensity. I even feel people’s emotions in a new way since I focus on their eyes. I looked into the eyes of a woman at the grocery store as she frantically cleaned her shopping cart with a disinfectant wipe. I noticed her caution-filled eyes. I locked eyes with a stranger on the street. Our eyes said, “Hello,” and I recognized his friendly smile because of the eyes. I glanced into the eyes of a masked, crying toddler. I saw her frustration.
Oddly, I learned that I hear people better when I focus on their eyes. When I talk to masked cashiers in stores, I focus on their eyes to hear them. If my eyes stray away from theirs, I often respond with, “Huh?” “Can you repeat that?” or some variation of “I didn’t understand you.”
During the 2020 election season, I watched many campaign events and attended many campaign events online. When I watched these events, I noticed that I focused more on the people's eyes on the other side of the screen than before the mask mandate. One candidate, President-Elect Joe Biden’s eyes often looked dark and squinty during his hopeful stump speeches. The eyes of this elder statesman were so tight that I barely saw his crow’s feet. His eyes looked tired. As I focused on his eyes, I asked myself, “How can he see new hope with tired eyes?”
The more I thought about the question, the more I thought about this year, 2020. I then asked myself, “How can I see new hope with tired eyes?”
As I travel down 2020’s memory lane, I realize my tears flowed incessantly throughout this year. My eyes grew tired.
Kobe Bryant, Gigi, and the rest of the helicopter passengers and crew. I cried.
Ahmaud Aubrey, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many more victims of violent crime. I cried.
Protests, Protests, Protests. I cried.
The Explosion in Beirut. I cried.
Canceled Olympics. I cried.
Canceled School. I cried.
The deaths of Chadwick Boseman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Rep. John Lewis. I cried.
West Coast and Australian Wildfires. I cried.
Over 20 Million People Unemployed. I cried.
At least 15 Million American Covid Cases. I cried.
Over 280,000 COVID deaths. I cried.
My family witnessed someone get shot while we attended a protest. I cried.
I spent eight months in physical therapy after Achilles tendon repair surgery. I cried.
I felt the stress of my family adjusting to a new way of life…a pandemic life. I cried.
Most of my tears flowed into a sea of lament. I desperately needed to see new hope with my tired eyes, so I cried out to God relentlessly. I even wrote prayers to connect more deeply with God.
One prayer I wrote is:
“Dear God, You sent me into exile/Into a land I’ve never known/I kneeled in prayer and worship/Trying to understand what’s going on/You said you have plans for me/And they will prosper too/You give me hope and a future/That you want me to use/I feel alone and helpless/In this land I’ve never known/I pray and seek to find you/My love for you I’ve shown/Help me to make meaning/Of a world that is so cold/Release me from captivity/And make me a new home. Amen.”
Soon after writing this prayer, I read “Lamentations, Chapter 3.” This chapter helped me realize that my tears and lament are filled with dignity. A sacred dignity that allows me to show up at God’s altar with all of my concerns and feelings. My tears and lament free me to accept that grace and mercy are intertwined in my DNA. My tears and lament liberate me from the weight of grief. My tears and lament rescue me from the barbed wire of life’s challenges. My tears and lament make my heavy, tired eyes a lot lighter.
I am grateful because my newfound focus on people’s eyes led to the question, “How can I see new hope with tired eyes?” I am also grateful because I discovered that although I don’t totally understand what God is doing in the middle of my human experiences, I fully understand that God welcomes, hears, and answers my lament. My lament helps me see new hope with tired eyes.