I’m on the Northern Line, heading downtown to Warren Street where I go every Wednesday to volunteer my time for a charity called Changing Faces. It’s just after nine in the morning so I’m spared the worst of the morning rush and manage to find an empty seat on the train.
I sit down, cradling my overpacked backpack, and look around. The carriage is full of people minding their own business; listening to music in their headphones; reading on their Kindles; playing Candy Crush on their iPhones. Everyone is absorbed in their own activity, encased in a bubble that separates and protects them from other passengers.
There was a time not long ago when I too sought refuge in a pair of headphones blasting my favourite songs into my half-deaf ears, drowning out the world around me. But not this time.
Neither do I pull out my book or phone to entertain myself; instead I sit back in my seat, relaxed and alert and watch the people around me.
In the past, I used to check out people’s socks, especially those of suited businessmen, looking to see whether they matched another piece of clothing; a tie perhaps, or shirt. But today, as I’ve done in recent weeks, I look at people’s faces. I try not to stare so as not to make anyone uncomfortable. Instead I gaze with an open heart at my fellow passengers’ faces.
I love faces, because I’ve discovered something amazing about them: the face of a person whose heart is open is naturally illuminated. Such beauty has nothing to do with physical features; it’s a beauty that radiates from within, and it’s the most powerful kind of beauty.
Not far from me sit a family of four; mother, father and two lively boys who keep climbing up on their seats and sticking their noses to the window, giggling as they look out into the dark tunnel. They speak Arabic so I have no idea what they’re talking about. Still, I can’t take my eyes off the mother who radiates like a lighthouse, illuminating the beauty of her whole being.
You’d struggle to pick her out in a large crowd, you might say, for her appearance is nothing by average, but that’s because you’ve not yet learnt to see what beauty lies beyond the surface.
I believe she senses my gaze but it doesn’t bother her. In that moment I feel we are connected, one heart to another.
No words are necessary.