The masks we wear…

Every day I see people struggling. Regardless of the reason for the struggle (death of a loved one, parent with dementia, loss of a job, a battle with depression or anxiety), people also struggle with how they are measuring up to some invisible standard they or society has set.

In our struggle to measure up, it is easy to put on a mask to show the world that we are OK. That does not mean we are OK. It just means that we are working very hard to convince ourselves, and other people, that we are. My mask makes me look as if I am coping better than I am. But the mask also makes me feel invisible. During one of my most difficult periods of loss, I wrote the following:

Don’t you see, when you look at my tears,
the sadness that will not stop?

Don’t you see, when you look in my eyes,
the hollowness of my soul?

Don’t you see, when you look at my skin,
the sallow gray of loss?

Don’t you see, when you look at my mouth,
the quiver I can hardly control?

Don’t you see, when you look at my face,
the pain of a grieving mother?

When you see my mask, you can remember
me laughing & playful.

When you see my mask, you can remember
my eyes with a sparkle.

When you see my mask, you can remember
my skin as glowing.

When you see my mask, you can remember
my mouth with a smile.

When you see my mask, you can remember
my face as strong.

My mask will help us both pretend.
And, everything will be OK.

I was definitely not OK. What got me through that struggle was finding my voice and finding people with whom I could honesty share how I was feeling; other people who had experienced a loss or who were involved in a similar struggle. It helped being able to lean on one another for love and support. It helped knowing I was not alone.

In her book Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser tells the story of 1960’s clown-activist Wavy Gravy. His message was that there is no such thing as a bus full of people whose passengers are all thin, healthy, happy, well-dressed and well-liked people belonging to harmonious families who hold jobs that don’t bore or aggravate them and who never doing anything goofy or mean.

Lesser adds to that sentiment by saying we should celebrate the fact that this bus of perfection does not exist. We all struggle from time-to-time. We all mess up and do not present our best self. She is encouraging, “if we’re all bozos, then for God’s sake, we can put down the burden of pretense and get on with being bozos. It is so much more effective to work on our rough edges with a light and forgiving heart.”

Struggle is part of the human condition. We all experience it at one time or another. That feels hopeful to me. Just knowing there is no standard to measure up to is freeing. It frees us to honour ourselves, give voice to what we are feeling, and lean a little more deeply into who we are becoming as a result of our life experiences.

 

 “We’re all bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.” Wavy Gravy