I just noticed something. When my son proposed to his fiance, her hand is over her mouth in an expression of surprise? joy? what? It is exquisite. I see the love she has for him by her hand spontaneously covering her mouth. I know the love he has for her.
This week I saw a similar photo in which the woman covers her mouth, in the same way, upon hearing the proposal. Beautiful again. Why? I don’t know. I noticed the pattern, but two do not make a pattern.
I now think it’s legitimate to notice a pattern (and btw they all said, “yes”).
This got me thinking…what does this mean? Hand over mouth. Why is it a spontaneous gesture when experiencing great joy, surprise, and, I sense, something else. Is it almost a modesty, a protection from vulnerability? When a dream that big, the decision to spend your life with someone, possibly have children together, become your number one, mate/partner/lover/that’s it/your person…comes to fruition?
Do we cover our mouths to prepare for the coming yes, while making this gesture to keep ourselves intact? As if the joy is sooooo big, we have to hold ourselves in to not come apart?
It’s curious. I wonder if there is a psychological, maybe even spiritual explanation as to this often instinctual bodily reaction to a desired marriage proposal.
I don’t know…I’m brainstorming. Scientists and sociologists explain a range of reasons why, when shocked, we cover our mouths: 1. Gasping creates a sudden increase of oxygen and covering our mouths protects it, 2. Concealing our mouths could prevent people from seeing our emotions, 3. It’s a form of self soothing when scared, 4. It’s a form of politeness so our mouths are not gaping open, 5. It’s a cultural response, 6. It’s not a cultural response 7. It stops us from screaming or blurting out something inappropriate. Etcetera.
Whatever it is, I think it’s a beautiful phenomenon.
It seems to me maybe the hands over mouth is unconscious protection, knowing we are about to agree to profoundly change our garden permanently. We go into marriage with the intention of “to death do us part”. As we seek to maintain our individuality, our self-ness, our roots in who we are, we are now agreeing to unite with another.
Two will become one, and paradoxically, we strive to each bring our whole self, not a diminished self as we agree to unite.
JUDAISM AND THE SHEMA
In Judaism we cover our eyes when we say the Shema, considered by many to be the most holy Jewish prayer. Here is the first part:
Hear, O Israel
The Lord is our G0D
The Lord is One
The Shema is said twice a day, morning and evening. One reason we cover our eyes is that it helps us concentrate while saying this holy prayer. The prayer, among other things, reminds us that G-d is one, united with us at all times. This covering can be a physical reassurance that we don’t have to see G-d with our eyes to trust G-d is here. We can accept the seeming unreality that G-d is with us as we let go of physical sight as our primary barometer.
True story. I do the Shema twice daily now. I try to connect with the deeper meaning, but to be honest, it usually feels flat, as if by rote. I think it’s worth taking the action even if we don’t feel anything, though I try. Yesterday, after researching why we cover our eyes with the Shema and discovering the video linked here, I spontaneously had a completely different experience. When I next said the Shema,
I imagined G-d with me (us) right then and saw that not seeing G-d with my eyes meant nothing. It transcended my sight and my mind. In that moment, G-d became real. I realize that Judaism gives a ritualized window into that experience twice every day. Anyone can use this quick meditation/imagination of “seeing” G-d with our heart and soul any time, any hour, of any day.
Regarding the wedding proposal, perhaps we cover our mouths because we instinctively and unconsciously recognize the divinity of the moment. Some say G-d’s most important job is pairing couples. Perhaps the sociologists are right when they say we cover our mouths to prevent ourselves from blurting something out. Here we intuitively know we might need to stop from saying something which could change this potentially divine moment.
KEEP IT SIMPLE SWEETHEART (KISS)
Scientists, sociologists, communication behavior experts, my own personal musings…
All analysis aside…
This spontaneous gesture, covering our mouths in the moment of joy, is lovely, heartwarming, and well…perhaps just a bit other worldly.
For just that moment, as we step into the decision to share our lives with another human being
…perhaps for just that moment, as we realize the dream of making that deepest commitment…
We step for a moment into the original Garden of Eden. ©
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Shema (first part of prayer, where we cover our eyes with our right hand) here:
YOU TUBE SHOUT OUTS: I discovered this Youtuber Peter Santenello watching his series on Hasidic Judaism (which is wonderful!) His byline “Videos about a world the media fails to capture” covers wide-ranging topics such as Inside Private Hasidic Sabbath Dinner As A Non-Jew, and Iran’s Free-Spirited Women. His videos make me happy. He goes in with the eyes of a child and dispels widespread cultural preconceptions. Peter connects with people at an essential level and models how we can experience the world afresh.
“Why do we cover….” articles by Susan Blackmore and Keiron Allen in Sciencefocus.com, “The Shema” from Chabad.org, “Worship Services: Sh’ma” from ReformJudaism.org, Garden of Eden Painting and short article by Yoram Raanan
Man#1 Photo by Karsten Winegeart, Woman Photo by Robin Higgins, Man#2 Photo by krakenimages , Dog Photo by Kseniia Ilinykh, Red flower Photo by Wynand van PoortvlietLittle, White flower Photo by Aaron Burden, Girl Photo by Caleb Woods, Heart Photo by Nick Fewings , Ring Photo by Matheus Ferrero, LOVE YOU Photo by Rod Long