. . . the eyes are the windows to the soul ~
Several times a week I get called to the nearby hospital to anoint someone who is gravely ill or dying. I approach this responsibility with great trepidation. You cannot anticipate what the atmosphere will be when you enter the room. Sometimes I find an elderly person alone and unconscious. At times the room is packed with family summoned to the bedside of a relative unexpectedly stricken or injured. Crying, stoicism and hysteria are all possibilities when entering the hospital room and I consistently wonder if I possess the necessary resources to bring serenity and hope into a volatile situation. Recently I received a call from an Emergency Room nurse who informed me that a young woman preparing to be married in two weeks had been struck by an automobile and was being kept on life support until I could arrive to administer the Sacrament of the Sick. She was still in the OR when I arrived and the staff had allowed her large family into the space. The entire expanse was filled with despair. After I had concluded the prayer the group dispersed into the hallway. As I prepared to depart and was saying goodbye, I found myself directly in front of the victim’s mother. Instead of voicing the usual phrases and messages, I instinctively touched her arm and looked directly into her eyes for a moment. I may never know what she interpreted from that encounter but I allowed my gaze to express sorrow for her loss and condolence in her unimaginable pain.
The poet Rilke once wrote that words are inadequate vessels to express deeply felt emotions and in spite of my love of language, I’m inclined to agree. There are experiences and feelings that simply cannot be summed up verbally. Sometimes it is enough to merely look directly into the eyes of another person and allow your compassion to shine forth. Perhaps all that is required when approaching someone on their worst day is allowing them to see that you are there. In the aftermath of this Emergency Room event I have found myself speaking less and looking more. After all, when I am broken, wounded or lost, do I really need someone to tell me they know exactly how I feel? When grieving, does anyone need to be reminded that the deceased is in a better place? I suspect that what we all want on that black day is to have someone hold our hand, look into our eyes with an expression that lets us know that they see how bad it is and no matter what, will always love us-
“The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter
– often an unconscious, but still a faithful interpreter – in the eye.”
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre