Masks Off

I used to think that I was the mask I put on my face. I was not duplicitous (then) – I thought my mask was my face. Until the day I saw my mask. In one moment, I took it off and held it in my hands. I had imagined it to be just right. I had imagined it to be like a real face. But, it was theatrical and exaggerated. Like a blind person touching my own face, I could feel the contours of me, unencumbered by the mask.

What to do with this mound of me? It feels mis-shapen. Wrong. A Stop sign, that is my me. I cannot go any further, me. No matter which way I turn, you are there. I thought back to the beginning, when I started to think. I remember growing quiet to observe. The curtains had to come down on my me so the curtains could come up on my (masked) me. The (masked) me was angry but carried a yellow sun around on its back. Basking it on others in a hateful secret way.

Now, I see I can’t get around my me. My me will twist and crumple any mask I put on it. My me will subvert an innocuous or even a virtuous artifice to serve its own ends. Even if the mask I first put on was beautiful and perfect, democratic, sociable, persuasive, my me twists those fine attributes into tools to serve their master. Me. My me demands to be, and it will be one way or the other.

Before the cacophony of my imagined adversaries died down, even before I found my center, I meditated with a mantra of “I am you.” Which one was me? The I or the you? The mantra tethered together my split me. The mastermind me, the one who painted the mask and pulled the strings, to the me who’d been left behind the curtains. I had abandoned that me. I had left it for dead. The mantra pulled up that me, like an inconsolable child onto its mother’s lap. It dragged down the mighty mastermind from its lofty cavern, so it could know of the other half’s suffering. For a moment, the mastermind was humbled and the child consoled.

Yesterday in the hotel room, I could feel my me. I wanted to tell everyone what to do and exactly how to do it. Like an autocrat, the opposite of the mask I put on. My mask is very democratic. I can no longer be deceived by labels, though. My mask has some serious side effects and it is not safe to use. I looked straight at myself and said to myself, “I just don’t know how to be.” It was not resigned. It was not hysterical. It was just me. It was like saying, “There’s no more bread.”

Earlier, through a series of benevolently contrived situations, I was able to experiment with taking my mask off temporarily. I saw how hard it was to breathe under the mask. I took big breaths, it felt so good to breath air that had not been filtered through the mask. When the sun can shine on me directly, I don’t resent the fact that the sun also shines on everybody else.

My mask beats around the bush. My mask tries to convince you. My mask believes that making requests of people is rude. My mask tries to make you like me. My mask is a legend in its own mind. Almost a saint, really. My mask would never dream of telling you what to do.

In my incubator, I didn’t beat around the bush, I didn’t try to convince you. I made direct proposals, requests and questions. I didn’t care whether you had fun or not. I was not a legend, I was not a saint. I didn’t have to be. I was being me, who I’ve always wanted to be.

The answer is not to change myself, because I can’t, but to see myself. I talked to a lady yesterday who is like me. She said, of course she was that way we are, that she just didn’t leave a trail of bodies behind her. That you didn’t have to.

Maybe my Stop sign can be a Yield sign instead.

Maybe, it doesn’t matter who I really am. My mask becomes the means by which my split me suffers and avenges its suffering. I am consumed by the process.

When I take my mask off, I can finally answer to something other than myself.


Inspired by the WordPress Daily Post for October 25 entitled “Masks Off.” 

The featured image is “The Angelus” by Jean-Francois Millet painted in 1857-1859. All works by Millet (1814-1875) are in the public domain.

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