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The Pause

Last weekend, I treated myself to a facial at a local spa. I was led into a dimly lit room that smelled faintly of vanilla and eucalyptus. The aesthetician motioned for me to sit down. She sat across from me, a small table between us, and asked, “What is it that you love about your skin?”

I’m sure I looked confused. In fact, I know I did, because I could see my confusion reflected in the mirror sitting between us on the table. I wasn’t ready for that question. I was ready for, “What would you like to change about your skin?”

And I had those responses ready:

  • Dark spots that remain, years after being pregnant.
  • Blemishes, mixed with wrinkles in some sort of mean and unfair joke of the universe.
  • Lines around my eyes that my daughter recently wondered about, curious if I was growing whiskers like a cat out of my eyes.

But that wasn’t her question. 

Her question was a beautiful one. And what struck me even more was the pause she offered after asking it. 

She had a friendly, warm smile and maintained eye contact, willing to wait for me to respond. Giving me space to process the question and think of my reply without jumping in to fill the silence.

I glanced over at the mirror in the room. I touched my face. I scrunched up my eyes. I turned from side to side to look at my face from different angles. It felt like it had been an eternity since the question was asked. 

“I love my freckles,” I finally offered. “They remind me of the feeling of the sun on my skin. And they make me think of my daughter, who also has freckles that look like they have been sprinkled across her cheeks.” She smiled warmly. I smiled too, thinking of the feeling of the warm sun on my skin. I smiled, thinking of my daughter.

Sometimes people ask us questions that surprise us. We don’t always have an answer ready and need some time to think before we reply. It is nice when people create that space through a pause. 

I walked out feeling radiant. Light. Happy. And even though she had slathered countless serums and lotions on my face, I don’t think it was from the fancy skin care products.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.