For just a moment, I thought she was going to cry.
She had turned her body and her face away from her husband and their two young children. I don’t think she knew anybody could see her. There was pain in her face. It wasn’t anger. It was the pain of disappointment and resignation. And then she pasted her mask back on and returned to the life which seemed to hurt her so much.
That’s what I saw anyway. Maybe I’m wrong. But for the long moment when I looked into her face and saw something that no human should have to feel, time slowed and I felt as though I could have reached out and touched her soul.
This was Friday night in the Walmart near my house, but I see similar pain on faces all around me, almost every day. I see people who I believe are miserable. It seems as though the pain and hurt and disappointment are etched onto their faces — hidden briefly by masks — and I wonder why nobody else seems to see what I see.
I could build a narrative for the woman I saw in the store, but there are dozens of stories that could explain the details of what I saw. Her husband had just snapped something at her. I don’t know if they had argued. I don’t know what might have led to that moment as they walked through the store with their kids.
I just know that he said something in a tone that was low and mean and cold. Whatever he said stung her. She turned away because she knew not to respond. Maybe she didn’t want a public argument. Maybe she didn’t want her kids to see what their parents are really like.
Whatever the rest of the story is, I can be certain of one thing. Her life is nothing like what she had dreamed it to be. When I see this particular look in people’s faces, it feels almost as though they’re halfway between living this life and simply disappearing into nothingness. Life is painful for them — and they don’t know why.
Some people watch birds. Others watch television. I watch people. I look at their faces. I try to see what I can read in them. Sometimes their faces are blank or neutral. Most people know to guard their feelings from the world around them.
But every now and then, her mask slips — or maybe his or maybe that one over there — and there’s raw emotion on display for the world to see. In those moments, the person’s naked soul is thrust out from behind the mask — as though in a desperate plea for understanding or connection. For someone to help. For someone to care what they’re going through.
I don’t think they consciously feel these things. I think they mostly feel blank in those moments. But I think there’s some little piece of themselves which wants — instinctively more than consciously — for someone to see who they really are.
I’ve always watched people in these ways. I’ve always seen some of the hidden pain I’m talking about. But I see more of it than ever today. It’s been getting worse for decades. As modern culture gets more dysfunctional and unhealthy, more and more people know something’s wrong, but they have no idea where to turn.
Their culture has sold them a lie. It’s a lie depicting unlimited pleasure and happiness and fun, but it turns out that the people in the dream projections are plastic and cold and the golden pleasures are nothing but flimsy cardboard which falls apart on close inspection.
It’s a culture which believes it’s killed off God. It’s a culture where nothing is sinful or evil except to believe differently than the culture says to believe. It’s a culture where the underlying messages are to worship false gods and to revel in consumption and pleasure.
It’s a culture which is dying. And the hurting people don’t understand that they will continue to hurt — and to be disappointed and confused and alienated — as long as they keep trying to live by the patterns which this culture commands them to obey.
I know there’s another path, not just in a happy afterlife to come, but in a joyful experience of love and family and community right here and now.
But the culture has perverted what love means. The culture is confused about what a family ought to be. And the desire to consume and compete keeps us isolated in our cardboard mansions, almost completely separated from each other.
I hate the pain I see on the faces around me. I hate the grief and disappointment that I saw on the face of that woman tonight. I hate the lies which are so deeply embedded in the dysfunctional culture. But I can do nothing about any of this, because I can’t make the changes — in hearts and minds — that will bring about renewal and salvation.
Our culture is broken. Most people seem to be suffering. We are desperately in need of redemption, but that has to start in the heart of every single person. It has to start with the conscious decision to reject the lies which keep us married to evil.
I want to build a new culture, one which is healthier and more honest and more joyful. I just wish I could reach out to each one of these hurting souls and say, “Will you come with me? Are you willing to start all over?”