To See or Not to See


Because of the virus, many of us are spending an unusual amount of time on Zoom and have found ourselves gazing at our own reflections. It’s not pleasant. Where did those wrinkles and wattles, extra chins, age spots and skin tags come from? When did they appear? Who knew?

Everyone but oneself, apparently.

I think of Robert Burns’ lines: O, wad some Power the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as others see us! The gods listened, and Zoom gave us that gift.

It’s never been a good idea to look at ourselves in the mirror for too long or too often. Remember what happened to Snow White’s evil stepmother?

Fortunately, the gods not only giveth but they can also taketh away.  When my granddaughter showed me how to “Hide Self View,” it took care of one of my problems. I no longer see myself, which is a good thing.

But there remains the problem of seeing others and making eye contact. I’ve been told that I should always look directly at the camera so as to create the impression that I’m looking at the viewer. If I actually look at the person who is talking, I appear to be looking away from them. It’s a conundrum.

There’s no way to really connect on Zoom, no way to have actual eye contact, the thing that Meleau-Ponty once described as “mutually enfolding glances”:

That said, I feel a lot of gratitude for the ways in which technology allows us to see our loved ones, to take courses, enjoy discussions and learn new things in different ways while still maintaining safe distances and following Covid procedures.

Years ago, when I worked as a social worker in a psychiatric setting, some therapists encouraged us to work in pairs in order to experience long sessions of silent eye contact. I remember being partnered with a very perceptive young schizophrenic man who quickly observed, “You’re not very good at this, are you?”

He was right. Back then I wasn’t a fan of extensive eye contact with strangers, but now I miss it.

However, as happens so frequently in these Covid times, “there’s a silver lining” – an expression we hear more and more often. A friend of mine was recently in a waiting room at the hospital for several hours, and for most of that time was sitting across from a young woman to whom she never spoke. Nonetheless, they formed a strong connection. Both masked, they glanced at each other – “mutually enfolding glances,” it seems – as they responded to the long wait as people came and went around them. The two of them were able, non-verbally, to communicate humour, frustration, boredom and, eventually, relief. My friend later said, “I will never forget that young woman’s eyes.”

In the early days of the virus, masks seemed alien. Now we’re able to lift up our eyes and we’re beginning to see each other in new ways.


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