Masks are now our norm. Just like people they seem to come in all shapes and colours. Some indicate our allegiance, ie a Welsh dragon. Others are simply utilitarian and plain. They are becoming a normal part of our lives.
Actually, masks aren’t new. They have always been our norm. The person on the door at church or at work or in the shop, asks how we are and we say, “Fine.” Rarely, do we stop to tell them we are not fine; we are barely coping; we don’t see the point of this week. Our ‘I’m fine’ mask goes up as soon as that question is asked. We all wear “masks”, and we all are aware of that.
The other day someone said to me, “I met someone who knows you, Martha.’ Okay, who could that be? When I heard who, for a brief moment, my mask came down. I told a group a very personal story, about a very difficult time. And after I finished speaking, I thought, “Oops, that information was not for public consumption.” But it is now out there. My mask slipped.
Before our masks go up we can often tell how a person is feeling based on reading their faces. There are certain clues that indicate anger or sadness, joy or relief. Being physically masked inhibits our ability to understand another’s emotions. Years ago a colleague told me that when a woman is veiled, “You learn to read their eyes.” Well, I have to say, I am not very good at reading only eyes. When someone says, “Oh, she has a twinkle in her eyes,” I can’t see the twinkle. What do our eyes communicate over our masks? Is there a smile in my eyes or sadness or fear or something else? How do we communicate gratitude and kindness with our eyes?
I now wonder whether our new physical masks will inhibit us from sharing with each other? Will we limit, even more, who we allow to see behind our masks? Will it become too hard to read behind the mask so we just don’t make the effort? Will it cause those of us who too easily drop into “I’m fine” to limit what we share even more?
In The Velveteen Rabbit, the Skin Horse tells the Rabbit about being real. He says, "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
The Skin Horse was worn and ugly because he had been loved. That loving relationship made him “real.” As humans we are ‘real’ when we let our masks down and are honest with others. Can we allow others to see behind our masks and truly love us, reminding us that we are real, true, and okay? We are called to be whole, to be real, to be who we are behind our masks. We still have to let our masks down sometimes and allow our real selves to be seen in relationships.
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