Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Secrets and Star-Gazing

In A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens' narrator states:

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.  A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”

This passage came to mind a couple days ago when my dear friend (and photographer phenom) Jessica Andrews posted this picture on Instagram:

A stunning picture, yes? 

Who lives behind those windows? What sort of secrets hide away from street-side eyes behind those cheery panes of glass? These are the thoughts this picture provoked.

Yet contrary to Dickens' assertion runs The Old Adage (TOA) that says: "the eyes are the windows into the soul." There is, according to TOA, something knowable about each other that surpasses our ability to articulate and our ability to hide. Our souls are visible to the world, despite our efforts to keep them shuttered. 

However, I think I'm going to have to disagree with both Dickens and TOA. I think there is a third possibility for whether there is truly a window into each of us. But first, let me start with a basic foundation that I think must be laid before I go any further: 

We are all broken. (Can I get an "amen"?)

I haven't yet heard this truth contradicted by, well, anyone so far--except maybe Thoreau (but it wouldn't be the first time Thoreau and I didn't see eye-to-eye). While there are always those who pretend to have their act together, we all know that "together-ness" is a fallacy. Therefore, this brokenness and the consequent need to protect ourselves from further brokenness is what creates separation (and secrets) from other people. To put it in the words of Oscar Wilde, "We are all in the gutter...." However, despite our isolated gutter-dwelling, Wilde goes on to say, "...but some of us are looking at the stars." And I think dear Oscar is on to something; he has articulated that third possibility for soul revelation.

A banner I saw in a bookshop in Dublin.

The window into our soul lies in the focus of our gaze.

The direction in which our eyes look reveals us for who we are. Moreover, it is what begins to draw us to other people with similar gazes (and them in return to us). Thus this shared perspective assuages some of the pain of brokenness and reminds us that we gutter-dwellers are not, nor ever will be, alone. 


I am unspeakably thankful for those who have peered through my windows and decided that instead of walking away or--possibly worse--trying to clean and repair, they have taken up residence alongside me. These friendships--and you know who you are, fellow gazers--are irreplaceable to me, and I thank each of you for allowing me the privilege of gazing at the stars together.


  1. "The direction in which our eyes look reveals us for who we are."

    I love this. It is so true!

  2. Consider this a hearty "amen"! I echo Christine's sentiment - I love these words on the direction in which we gaze. I'd add that gazing at the stars is not necessarily a natural inclination, but a posture we must fight to maintain. It is perhaps one of the most important battles in life, because it speaks to our ability to cling to hope in the dark times. History is filled with survivors who persevered through unspeakable suffering because they were able to hope, while those who lost hope perished. Thank you for this great word picture of such an important truth!

    1. You're absolutely right, Alison. The direction of our gaze is always a choice, some directions easier than others. Yet this choice is yet another gift of free-will granted to us which, in turn, is what speaks so loudly when we choose to look up rather than at the gutter around us. Thanks, Alison!

  3. In the novel I am writing, the main character, who feels abandoned by God (justifiably, he thinks) often gazes at the stars in times of crisis. I may be on to something profound here without even knowing it!

    1. I think you are on to something profound, Lisa! And the best kind of profundity comes when we aren't looking or striving for it.

  4. Loved your post, Anna. That is a super cool picture. There aren't a whole lot of windows to look through where I live, but sometimes when I ride into town with Gramps and sit waiting for him at the John Deere place or parts store, I watch people drive past in their vehicles and wonder what all is going on in their lives. Some never think to look at the stars, I fear. I'm so happy you do :)

    1. Yes, people in cars are always fascinating to me too because they seem to believe the same as the toddler who closes her eyes and thinks no one can see her because she can't see them. You get quite an authentic look at people sometimes as they drive along. I consider you one of my star-gazing friends, Danni. I'm very thankful for you :)


Please, say hi and tell me your thoughts. I'd love to hear from you!