Constable: Until pandemic is under control, the eyes have it
In our new abnormal that began six months ago, when handshakes fell victim to the pandemic and masks still hide the lower half of our faces, we have been forced to take our social cues from the eyes. As important as that seems today, we did a lot of judging based on eyes before the pandemic.
The philosophy that "eyes are the window of the soul" has been around for centuries. In 43 A.D., the great Roman orator Cicero wrote, "Ut imago est animi voltus sic indices oculi," which translates as, "The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter."
A French proverb proclaims, "Les yeux sont le miroir de l'dme," or "The eyes are the mirror of the soul," according to the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings.
And the Bible has plenty of references to that idea, including two verses in the book of Matthew, which conclude: "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
Lots of us can see great darkness in the eyes of society's greatest villains. When Charles Manson, the cult leader convicted in a string of several horrific murders, died in prison in 2017, actor Bryan Cranston recalled a chance 1968 meeting with Manson when Cranston was a 12-year-old.
"Hearing Charles Manson is dead, I shuddered," he wrote. "I was within his grasp just one year before he committed brutal murder in 1969. Luck was with me when a cousin and I went horseback riding at the Spahn Ranch (where Manson and his 'family' were living) and saw the little man with crazy eyes whom the other hippies called Charlie."
"Crazy Eyes" has become such a common expression that it was the nickname for a character in the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black." Crazy eyes might as well be a warning label letting us know that whatever lies behind those orbs might be under pressure.
Small, beady eyes are seen as malicious, and some people are described as having "cold eyes." A 2014 South Korean film titled "Cold Eyes" is a thriller featuring coldhearted bank robbers. When I hear "cold eyes," I take that literally and think back to the winter of 1977-78, when my college campus was buried in record snow and the landscape was tundra. In January, when the snow was piled high on both sides of the sidewalk and everyone wore scarves, hats and identical down coats that made us all appear as the Michelin Man tire mascot, the only part of a person you could see were the eyes. On those rare occasions when I made eye contact with a passing blob, I'd offer a friendly wave, not sure if it was the cute woman in my history class or the guy who worked next to me in the cafeteria's basement dish room.
Of course, as the Bible tells us, eyes can send us a cheery signal. If you are in a good mood, people might call you bright-eyed. The characters in Disney cartoons and Japanese anime often feature oversized eyes, which society deems cute. That's why you can buy contact lenses to make your pupils appear bigger.
Some people don't need the help.
The flip side of Manson eyes might be the wide-open peepers of two-time Oscar-winning actress Bette Davis. Her eyes were immortalized in the song "Bette Davis Eyes," written by Donna Weiss and former Aurora and Batavia resident Jackie DeShannon. Singer Kim Carnes made that song a hit in 1981 and won a Grammy for Song of the Year.
The violet eyes of actress Liz Taylor are legendary. Jake Gyllenhaal and Taylor Swift have similar baby blues. Emma Stone and Jesse Williams have the greens locked down. Michael B. Jordan and Salma Hayek could walk away with brown-eyes honors.
Some religious groups that require most of the face to be covered might already gain a lot of knowledge from the eyes. With or without a vaccine, society's efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus probably will last well into 2021, says Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert. So we'll continue to judge people solely on their eyes peering above masks, which is difficult to do.
But if you can see a smile, sneer or frown on the mouths of strangers in public who ignore the evidence and are not wearing masks, it's easy to make a judgment about their character.