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The look

I’m sitting in row five, 40,000 feet somewhere above the Oklahoma panhandle on my way back home to Colorado. I’ve just left Oklahoma City to spend Easter weekend with my dad, a new widower. My mom’s birthday was yesterday, Easter Sunday. She would have been 68 this year.

I’m staring at a picture my dad took of her on one of their first dates. Dad was in the Air Force in Shreveport, LA and Mom was a drama major at Centenary College in the same town. My daughter, Lauren, came across this picture as she put together a slide presentation for my mom’s funeral service and I’ve been captivated since I saw it. My dad tells me it’s from an air show at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, circa 1967.

At once it’s a picture of a woman I never knew and a picture of a woman I know intimately. She’s wearing a pristine white sleeveless dress suitable for Audrey Hepburn. Her arms are folded across her body as she looks over her right shoulder back at the camera. Her dark brown bobbed hair is windblown as she stands on cracked tarmac under a bright blue sky.

I’m struck by her gaze. She has porcelain skin, with bright pink lips slightly pursed under a perfect nose. Broad, high cheekbones frame the eyes… it’s those eyes I can’t escape. They belie curiosity, intelligence, spunk, desire, and a little irritation.

In telling the story behind the picture, my dad said that he took her to the airshow for a date because he was just broke: an enlisted airman doing his time for the military. She doesn’t look impressed by the venue or by the particular idea of an airshow, but she looks a little intrigued, like she’s kind of up for anything.

That look pierces me every time I see it. There is a depth to her eyes that I can’t escape. It’s the look I saw in much later years as we’d share ideas and test each other’s tolerance for our debates during my adulthood. They’re eyes of my kindred soul.

She was restlessly inquisitive. No question was too big, and no answer worth having came easy. Of all she taught me, the lesson I value more than any other is that faith that is not worth questioning is faith that is not worth having.

I see that in that look on the tarmac at Barksdale AFB. It’s a look of skepticism but of a willingness to be persuaded. A little dubious, but curious. A look that says, “I’m not convinced… yet.”

The elegant, beautiful woman on the tarmac is only a couple of years older than my oldest daughter, Lauren. She will be leaving home in a few months to head to college. As I stare into the photo of my beautiful coed mom I can’t help but think of Lauren – a new chapter of her life opening, as a chapter in our lives closes.

I see glimpses of the look in both my girls. The look of expectation, curiosity, electricity.

I love that look.

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