I have to admit. I’ve liked wearing a mask.
Not at first, of course. As soon as I was far away from people, I’d rip it off and try to forget there was a reason to wear it. As though disposing of any evidence might make things less real. As though I could pretend it wasn’t there when it clearly was.
My face pained and stretched. Slightly sweaty from holding onto that shield for however long I needed to.
So I could feel good about myself. So others thought I was a good person too.
Masks are funny like that. I’ve worn dozens of them.
All different colors and textures, depending on the situation. My outfit.
Who was close.
Who was not.
A mask for every occasion.
Oh, you thought I was talking about the pandemic?
Recognizing the Patterns of Protection
I grew up in a smaller town, part of a larger area where people were always trying to be nice. Like some sort of code of conduct. Perhaps it was the Catholic school I attended or the church my family went to every weekend. Or maybe it was the way I saw my parents act.
Sometimes one way, sometimes another.
This is not a moment for berating the past or getting sucked back into it. It’s just how it was, a way of survival. A way of fitting in. Of not causing waves or upset. Because that would be the most terrible thing.
Be the good girl.
Be the strong boy.
Be the effective parent. Or the money maker. Or the caretaker.
Be the one others want you to be. Listen to the things they like and don’t like. Adjust. Reshape. Shift the mask to cover that bumped nose (like mine) or the wrinkles from holding up a smile against the gravity of life.
Put that mask on the second you are out in the world. Leave it there. Take it off for no one unless they are safe. Or unless it gets too hard and you can’t stand the pinching behind your ears anymore.
My mask(s) go on when I think things are expected of me. When stories have likely arrived before I do. When I’m with my family. When I’m not the most experienced person in the room.
And I never am.
It’s a reflex to become something desirable. Easy. Kind.
It’s a habit to shift to be somehow more palatable. Aligned with the larger group thinking.
Because standing out makes you a target for judgment. Criticism.
Being seen for who you really are.
Another imperfect human.
The Space Between
But the mask stands between me and you. Holding back the person I am — sarcastic, quick to action, slow to think things all the way through or to start things before a deadline.
These masks I’ve had are useless. They feel good. Sometimes comfortable, but the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve found them itchy. Tight. A barrier between connection and someone really knowing who I am.
Sometimes scared. Sometimes hopeless. Sometimes unsure even if my face says otherwise.
My face is often so different from my internal landscape. Because my mom had a face whose neutral set point looked angry or annoyed, I have those tendencies too. I have to force a sort-of smile to get it out of dour and into, well, something that doesn’t look like I’m ticked off.
But, that means my words say one thing and my face might say another. I confuse myself. I likely confuse others, leaving me feeling more and more alone sometimes because people don’t understand me. How could they with this smile as I share my deep fears?
Dropping the Masks
It takes courage, daring, and the realization that no matter who I am, I will never be eternally liked, loved, or understood.
It takes courage, darling, to stop grabbing a mask as you head out the door or turn on your webcam. And just show up as you are. Exactly as you are.
For me, it’s taken practice and a lot of internal pep talks. And sitting with Aphrodite. Asking her how to arrive fully on every wave. Asking her how to be both beautiful and jealous, angry and open, kind and direct.
How to realize my own grit and irritation is also the beginnings of a pearl.
It has taken burning the masks in ritual. Screaming them out into the night sky. Walking with Inanna to through all of the gates, dropping each layer of protection until I am naked and vulnerable.
Perhaps, you can take off the masks that hide. So when we see each other, we recognize each other again.
(Obviously, don’t take off masks that are preventing COVID transmission. This is not about that.)