Masks are not just for Halloween in this era
Masks are now everywhere. And not just covering faces. Masks advertised in catalogues. Masks in internet ads. Masks littering the ground presumably accidently dropped. Masks hanging from rear view mirrors. Masks making statements. Homemade masks. Makeshift masks. How much more will we make of masks?
They’re somewhat controversial, aren’t they? An infringement on individual rights some may say. An unpleasant sign of the times for sure. Will we ever return to a time when they are not a part of our wardrobe? Necessary PPE (personal protective equipment)? A comfort? A nuisance? A token of care for being in community?
Once upon a time a mask was something only for Halloween. Maybe Mardi Gras. Of course a mask as part of a costume is intended to conceal one’s true identity. It’s part of the fun of Halloween. As a little Spider Man or Princess Elsa approaches the door, it becomes a game for the candy dispenser to guess who might be hiding behind the disguise.
There’s an old movie titled simply “Mask.” Just “Mask.” Not “The Mask” with Jim Carrey. The movie I am referring to came out in 1985. It’s based on a true story, a real-life story of a young man with an extremely rare bone condition that causes facial deformity. The disease was sometimes called “lionitis” because it creates lion-like features.
Rusty, the mother of this young man, who went by the nickname of Rocky, did her best to help her son have a “normal” life. As a result, he had remarkable self-confidence, a feat for any teenager in high school. One of the reactions among the other students included an exchange with a popular young man who confronted Rocky with the insensitive taunt, “Why don’t you take off your mask?” Rocky’s plucky reply was, “I’ll take off mine if you take off yours.”
Beyond the pluck of the one who offered them, the words point to a far more common condition among human beings than the disease Rocky endured. Most if not all of us hide aspects of ourselves from others. Conceal. Camouflage. Dilute. Distort. While it’s true that some people seem to be “in-your-face” kind of people, even they may not be revealing everything that could be known about them. Being vulnerable isn’t comfortable. Being under the microscope isn’t easy. Understanding ourselves and living fully, courageously out of that knowledge isn’t always appealing to us. How do we mask ourselves? And what does a mask mask?
The work of Brene’ Brown inspires me. The first book I read was Daring Greatly. She bases the title of the book on the words of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech. Google it if you don’t know it. But Brown brings it home, makes it personal by saying things like, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen,” and “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
I would agree: not comfortable. But in the brief life we are given to live, what’s the point of not living it genuinely, fully, confidently, and as beautifully you as possible?
Rebecca Taylor is pastor at the First Presbyterian Church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org