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The eyes have it, or not … it’s hard to tell when you’re masked up

“Don’t look at me with your eyes like that!” the lady barked at me.

We were all standing in line at Fire Rock Casino, waiting for the doors to open and to be processed, one by one, into the interior.

Duane Beyal portrait

Duane A. Beyal

I had arrived a little late so the line of people wound around the front driveway of the casino, back and forth like a coiled rope.

As I walked up, I lifted the wire that separates the lines of people, thinking there was no one next.

Then the lady walked up and said, “The line starts back there.”

I looked at her with what I thought was an empathetic grin, trying to make light of the moment. But her statement caught me off guard.

We were all wearing masks, as mandated by everyone from Dr. Fauci in Washington to President Nez in Window Rock to the Navajo casino’s management.

After a year of huffing about, trying to be heard, and considering whether the color of a mask might clash with your wardrobe, wearing masks has become a habit. A tiresome habit, yes, but one that is necessary in this age of living with an invisible microbe.

But more than that, I thought to myself, do my eyes betray more of my feelings than I thought? Or how could she know whether I was smiling or not, or happy or mad?

And what did she mean by my eyes? Were they dark with anger or expressive with disdain? Do my eyes snap or crackle?

Never much of an extrovert, I had always thought of myself as a laid back, boring type of person – never one with expressive eyes that could fire the soul. Or inspire anger.

This reminds me of a photo we published last spring when we were all becoming acclimated to the new habit of wearing masks. The photo was one of many we usually publish in the spring graduation season, from pre-school to college, students all in glory with flowers, plumes and caps and gowns.

As soon as I saw this particular photo, I said, “She’s smiling!”

It was her eyes that showed she was smiling. They were crinkled and expressing joy and celebration. So it was easy to see her smile behind her mask.

But at Fire Rock, my mood was securely hidden behind my mask except for my guilty eyes.

This new face-do is required whether you are home or not, whether ensconced in your own cocoon or out with the masses.

It has drawn the ire of conservatives, who protest it is taking away freedom, and of my granddaughter, who knows when grandma will tell her to put it on.

Even during this period when vaccinations are gradually pricking more and more arms (I had Pfizer, no side effects), health experts still advise wearing masks.

One question: Why do high school basketball players wear masks but the pros don’t? Is money another form of a mask?

But the lady at the casino and I quickly turned to our respective business and the episode was almost forgotten.

But then at a gas station I walked in to pay and the girl behind the counter said, “Excuse me, but can you put on your mask?”

Sorry, I said, as I quickly turned around and grabbed my mask from the front seat.

As I re-entered the store, now properly masked up with breath fogging my glasses, I felt normal and accepted.

There’ve been many times I’ve forgotten to wear my mask outside of my car. I’m usually met with stony stares from cashiers or carefully blank looks from other customers before I think, “Oh, yeah, I forgot!”

Of course, some people are blunt and say what they think to your face.

I apologize to everyone and to people I undoubtedly will meet in the future with this same mistake. It is not intentional or political. It is the result of neither “woke” nor “cancel” culture.
It’s mostly my absentmindedness.

So sorry, everyone, I will try to practice the safety protocols we hear everyday and will wear my mask no matter what color it is or if they fog up my glasses.

And sorry to the lady at the casino for my overly expressive eyes.

Duane Beyal is the editor of the Navajo Times.


About The Author

Duane A. Beyal

Beyal is editor of The Navajo Times.

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