Saturday, June 18, 2011


The other day, at a Chinese Restaurant, we came upon some friends as we were paying up to move out. In that one spur before I turned around and the couple registered our greeting, the lady’s mask slipped. No, it did not slip, in fact it took a moment to come on, just a lightening Nano of a second. But the original expression stayed with me, right through the ride home. Thank God for the mask, I told myself!

There are prospective events in my life I dread. I dread coming upon someone changing. I have paranoia of catching my maid unawares, what if she is drinking straight out of the milk pan?! I cautiously knock on all toilets. It makes me uncomfortable to keep bumping into an acquaintance over and over on the jogging track. There is this imaginary fear that my wallet may not have enough cash when I open it after a purchase. I am petrified of the husband dragging an obvious friend up to me and loudly announcing, “Remember him?” I dread an empty fuel tank, a run-down phone recharge as also a dying gas burner flame. But there is something I dread more.

I dread surprising another human before they have had the time to snap on the mask. It is awful.  There is something there in that fleeting and forced intimacy that I would rather not acknowledge. On the few occasions I have glimpsed this crack; it appeared achingly desolate on the other side. Every time it has happened, I have quickly broken the eye contact to look away, giving time and space for the curtain to come down.

Why do we wear this mask? Wither this need to hide? To pretend. Is the mask something decreed by social hygienists? Does it aid or hinder our authenticity and evolution? Where would we be without the mask; dancing in heaven or roasting in hell?

by: Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To Thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

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