Within nine minutes of birth babies can track faces. It’s what we’ve been wired to do.
I believe that we are formed by the faces that reflect for us who we are. Our souls record each human interaction as an emotional snapshot. We internalize this series of thumbnail images at the deepest level. We hold them in our bones. This saved memory informs what we will come to expect in relationship to all subsequent faces, both human and divine.
For more than two decades, the story that was mine had its beginning in a Boston Adoption agency. My adoptive parents brought me home when I was three weeks old. My adoptive mother’s eyes still sparkle and tear as she recounts it, “I looked at you and you were my daughter. I just loved you immediately. You were adorable, just adorable.” In my mind I see her taking me in her arms, looking into my eyes, and thinking that I am the most beautiful little baby girl she’s ever seen.
“The first thing I did,” she continues, “was to change you out of that ugly orange outfit.” And so our story began.
What babies and children and adults most need are the eyes, ears and lips of others that will confirm our inherent, undeniable, acceptability. We look for this affirmation in the faces of parents and neighbors, lovers and peers.
Some faces lie about who we are. These ones are turned toward us with bleary eyes, stopped ears and hissing lips. They’re also the absent or inaccessible ones, who quietly insist that we are unworthy. In this, they lie.
Graciously, there are other faces, often unexpected, who tell us the truth about who we are. They confirm to our hearts that we are worth nurturing and protecting. Without speaking a word they convince us that we are precious and beloved.
Some of the faces we most trust do both.
I found my birthmother when I was 22. The first letter I ever received from her, penned on salmon stationery, read, “This peach paper is the color you were wearing the last time I saw you. You were about three weeks old and adorable—of course.”
The irony of the dress which had been chosen by a social worker for my big day isn’t lost on me. The face of the mother relinquishing saw me as the most wonderfully perfect person exactly the way I was. The one choosing me took one look and wanted to change me as quickly as she could.
Isn’t that the way?
I believe that in our deepest places we long to find the Face that truly satisfies. We yearn to be assured, “I’m yours. You’re mine.” It’s the thing for which we’ve been made. Despite all spiritualized denials, this face was meant to bear flesh. When we do recognize this One, we are at last freed from our own reflection in order that we can be for others.
It’s the thing for which we’re made.
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