The poet Rainer Maria Rilke used to spend his lunch hour outside watching the faces of the people walking by; he found it a pleasant way to pass time. One day he wrote in his notebook: "It never occurred to me before how many faces there are. There are multitudes of people but there are many more faces, because each person has several of them."
I come from a long line of stern and arrogant men. Looking at the photographs of my grandfather on my mother's side of the family and great grandfathers from long ago, I can see how their visages threatened and frightened other people.
In her writings about growing up in Africa among the Dagara, Sobonfu Some comments on how they believe that you sculpt your face as you live, each wrinkle and crease showing a particular challenge, joy, pain, or struggle you have survived.
I will never forget the shocking encounter I had one day in seminary with my theology professor who took me aside after class and said: "Do you have any idea how the bored and scornful look on your face affects others? You better do something about the way you present yourself to the world. You will never make it in the parish with a face like the one you presented to me this morning."
Years later, I read in this story in Eknath Easwaran's The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, Volume 2: "In my teaching days in India, when I would remind a student that he was looking a little gloomy, he would object. 'But sir, it's my face.' I would reply, 'Yes, but it's we who have to look at it.' Not even the look on our face is our own business; all these things affect the people around us."
Although sometimes bothered and bewildered by how people react to my face, I have been carried through the years by a solid and enduring knowledge that the Beloved smiles sweetly upon seeing my visage and Mary Ann does the same. "Hello handsome" is one of her cheerful repertoire of morning greetings to me. That simple but genuine token of love means a lot to me.So now I do not worry very much anymore about my downturned mouth which looks scornful or my hollow eyes or the sometimes emotionless expression on my face. Buoyed by grace, I take to the streets so that my face may join the others in the parade of life.