The Thing About Faces

There’s this scene in Mockingjay where executions take place in every district. You never find out who the people executed are. Their faces are covered by black bags, just as the faces of those who execute them have their faces covered by dark visors. Both victim and executor are unknown to us, but the gut wrenching reaction of a woman in the crowd reminds us that there are some in this fictional world who know them all too well, who have washed their well worn overalls and have cut the hair that we never see.

There’s a moment in V For Vendetta where an inspector rushes to get Evey Hammond into his custody so that he can talk to her before she disappears into a black bag. People have their faces covered by black bags and are never seen again, as if they never really existed, as if they were never truly known. But Evey Hammond remembers the parents she lost to those black bags, and she remembers the friend she loses in the exact same way.

There are these news stories that present to us people with black bags over their faces. These people are executed in cold blood and they tumble into their dusty surrounds, but we never see who they were. In these news stories, we never see their faces and I can’t stop thinking about these black bags that take people away. I can’t stop thinking about the faces of those who are torn out of existence like a stitch gone wrong.

I can’t stop thinking about the way that, in fiction and reality, a person’s identity is stripped away by the obscuring of their faces. How easy it is to forget those whose faces we do not know. We remember often our loved ones often by a particular way they smile, or a look in their eyes, or the way a dimple appears when they’re thinking hard, or how they chew their lip when they’re deep in thought. If you take away their face, so much is lost.

I hate that black bags are used to strip identity. I hate that identity is stripped away at all.

But the thing about faces is that once we’ve been shown them, we scarcely forget those that matter to us. We remember. The loved ones who knew the faces of those that were obscured by a black bag will never forget them. Once we’ve seen, we do not so easily forget.

It’s made me think about Jesus. I know it sounds trite, but I mean it. At church recently we talked about how in the story of the cross, we’re Barabbas. We stand guilty, but somehow free, as Jesus dies in our place, and I’ve been thinking about how the lines in his face might have looked. The sweat and the tears and the burden of sin and death. I’ve been thinking about his expression when He stands before Thomas, alive three days later, and he lets Thomas touch the scars in his hands. I’ve been feeling thankful that even though I did not stand there, that his face is part of history. That he stood within history and will not so easily be forgotten.

He doesn’t easily forget, either. Those who have been senselessly murdered and whose faces we never see in those news stories? He knows. He knows them. He knows their faces and he will not forget. That’s the thing about faces. We don’t easily forget them when we care for them.

He won’t easily forget. He never has.

 

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