They say you can’t see people smile behind a mask.

They say it’s sad not being able to see people smiling.

Sadder to see a person smirk at someone wearing a mask.

Sadder still thinking what can happen because some folks refuse to wear masks.

But in some ways, smiles are more obvious behind a mask than with the “mask” of a smiling face.

Real smiles shine through, despite the masks covering noses and mouths.

Unmasked, people focus on the smile itself. 

The pulling back of lips, the rising of cheeks, the exposure of teeth. 

Normally, people look at the mouth for the smile. But ever look at some folks’ eyes while they’re smiling? The person’s mouth may have a happy face smile but the eyes are like ice.

Seeing eyes like ice, or stone, or apathetic, or agitated, or anything but warm and welcoming suddenly that upturned smile isn’t so warm and welcoming either. The mouth is stretched back in a skull-like rictus rather than a real smile.

Most folks force a smile sometimes due either to a situation, or upon encountering some people in our lives. We “grin and bear it” as the old saying goes.

But some folks always smile with their mouths but hardly ever with their eyes. The doors are open but nobody’s home. And those eyes aren’t saying, Come on in!

Still, a lot of people judge a smile by a mouth, not the eyes.

Not so with a mask.

Many of us may not feel like smiling: people we know are sick, we may be sick, we may be afraid of getting sick, we may be worried about our job or lack of a job, wondering how we’re going to juggle work and having kids virtually taking classes at home, no sports, limited places open for limited hours ... having to wear an itchy mask everywhere we go. 

But still there are reasons to smile: unexpectedly encountering a co-worker, friend or family member while out and about; seeing something funny; a kindness from a stranger ...

And those real smiles shine through the mask. Those real smiles shine through the eyes. People who really smile, the mask can do nothing to conceal it. People who smile without smiling, well, the masks truly reveal it.

If you can’t see someone’s smile look to the eyes. If they’re smiling, the smile is still there.

But with some folks, if you can’t see the smile, even when looking at their eyes, it may well be that it’s never been there anyway.

 Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.

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