"THE door opened and he stood there,
fresh-skinned and glowing. There was something about
his eyes. He was inexplicably different. What had happened?"
Thus wrote AA's co-founder Bill W. in
his dramatic personal account of the chance visit from
an ex-drinking companion who brought him the message
that was to become the Twelve Steps. The man had undergone
a startling change in appearance and bearing, something
that Bill recognized immediately. Something was inexplicably
different about his old friend; something had happened.
What was it? Why was it so obvious?
we know, Bill's old friend had had a spiritual experience
that had changed his outlook, and had also kept him
sober for two months. His thoughts and feelings were
no longer the same, and his sobriety had probably improved
his physical health. This was considerable change for
any person to make, particularly one whose alcoholism
had almost resulted in a court commitment to a mental
institution just a short time before. But the most
obvious change was the new look in his eyes. This
is what Bill saw instantly.
This is something that all of us see
in our fellow AA members, although we aren't always
aware of it. When we talk of the look on a person's
face, we are really talking about the look in his eyes,
for this is where one expresses what he really is. The
eyes truly are "windows of the soul" and they
have powers of communication that are far beyond words
and actions. "The eyes have one language everywhere,"
wrote George Herbert. Which is what Emerson touched
upon in his essay on behavior: "The eyes of men
converse as much as their tongues, with the advantage
that the ocular dialect needs no dictionary, but is
understood all the world over. When the eyes say one
thing and the tongue another, a practised man relies
on the language of the first." But the truth in
all of this had been discovered centuries before, and
in the sayings of Jesus we find: "The light of
the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single,
thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine
eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.
If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness,
how great is that darkness!"
This explains what is meant when one
person is said to "smile with his eyes" while
another looks "hard." Good thoughts and feelings
are shining through for the one person, while confused
and selfish thoughts are clouding the outlook for the
other. All of us have seen sick alcoholics whose eyes,
besides being bloodshot and red-rimmed, revealed terror,
bewilderment, frustration and despair. We have also
had the joy of seeing these same alcoholics recover,
and before long they looked confident, happy, serene
and charitable. When the inner man changes, the outer
man changes also.
The nature of this change is probably
nowhere more readily observable than in a remarkable
set of black-and-white slides shown during talks by
an AA member from Des Moines, Iowa. This member is also
a judge, and the slides are "before" and "after"
pictures of alcoholics whom he and his friends have
been able to help through a unique assistance plan connected
with his court. The good judge first tells his AA audiences
about the workings of the plan, and then flicks on the
projector and shows them the results. The "before"
pictures reveal defeated and sullen alcoholics as they
appeared in custody, while the "after" shots
show how they looked months later when an effective
recovery had taken root. The change is so startling
as to be almost unbelievable. These are completely new
people and they look it. In most cases, of course, there
was a great improvement as a result of regular barbering
and good diet. But the big change was in the expression
in their eyes; it was as if each of them had found an
inner light that now sparkled brightly for all to see.
Interestingly enough, AA members who saw these slides
at the Michigan state conference of AA in Lansing last
September were quick to notice this. Had they stopped
to reflect on it, many of them would have realized that
the same kind of change had also occurred with them;
they just didn't happen to have "before" and
"after" shots to prove it!
The look in a man's eyes must always
have a profound effect on the sick alcoholics he meets
for the first time and the alcoholic need not understand
just what it is that looks genuine and worth having.
It is necessary only that it exists, and he will quickly
sense it. All of us can remember people who attracted
us and made us feel good the first time we met them,
while others repelled us for some unaccountable reason.
Our inability to explain just why we dislike certain
people probably accounts for the popularity of this
verse, which is actually three centuries old:
I do not love thee, Doctor Fell, The
reason why I cannot tell; But this alone I know full
well, I do not love thee, Doctor Fell.
We can sympathize with the confused
student who wrote this. Doctor Fell was probably a man
of learning, a faithful church-goer, a steadfast citizen,
and a defender of law and order, along with all the
common virtues. By all the rules, he was a man one should
like and respect, and our student knew this. Nonetheless
he found himself intensely detesting Doctor Fell, who
apparently hadn't harmed him at all. Why?
The answer lies somewhere in the depths
of Doctor Fell's long-departed soul. But it is a safe
assumption that he had a meanness of spirit and a coldness
of heart that was revealed by the flinty hardness of
his eyes. The student saw this without knowing that
he saw it. No matter what Doctor Fell did to present
a warm and friendly exterior to the world, people were
made uneasy by the cruelty he tried to suppress.
Why do our eyes tell so much about us?
Well, according to some teachers, such as the late Emmet
Fox, everything in a person's life must eventually correspond
to the thoughts and feelings he habitually entertains.
This is but another way of saying that poor mental health
will finally result in poor physical health and a disorderly
environment. In the long run, any person who maintains
a sour outlook will have a sour face to go along with
it, and perhaps a sour family life and social life to
Knowing and accepting this, what can
a person do to improve the quality of his own "look"?
Can he develop the so-called "single eye"
by willing it? And how does he know when he's "got"
Apparently this is the kind of thing
that cannot be pursued directly. Like happiness, it
is the result of entertaining a favorable combination
of thoughts and feelings. One gets the kind of a look
he deserves, and if he has mean thoughts he'll have
a mean look. He may work diligently to give a pleasing
impression, but his real self is what people will see.
If he has a deep love of humanity, which some fortunate
people find, he will have about him something that will
cause total strangers quite involuntarily to smile in
return when he greets them on the street. He will find
that some of the conventional barriers and rigidities
in social relationships don't apply to him, and he will
make friends without seeming to try. He will also be
speaking the universal language of the heart, and people
will see in him something that they want for themselves.
It was that "something about the
eyes" that helped carry the first AA message to
one of our founding members. It is still carrying the
message in a thousand different ways. Every AA member
who addresses a meeting gives two talks: one, of words,
the other, in the silent language of the heart as spoken
by the eyes. The latter persists after the words have