The Mask

The Mask

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Why do I blog?

Many reasons really!

I woke up at 4.15am this morning with a “vulnerability hangover” and wondered “Why did I tell everybody about going to the Cemetery last night?”

I imagined what people would think as they read it.

I knew that other bereaved parents would probably understand, but what about everybody else?

Well, I imagined that some people might think that if I really trusted God then I wouldn’t be so distressed and preoccupied with grieving. Maybe they would think that I was wallowing in self pity and just attention seeking.

I worried that some might resemble Job’s wife in the Bible story and would react with the attitude “Why doesn’t she just curse God?Job 2:9

Then at 7am this morning I received a private message from someone who goes to the same church as me. She says that reading my blog is the only thing keeping her sane. Receiving that message was both humbling and encouraging.

I feel at times like a drowning person clutching a piece of driftwood to stay afloat.

If my blog can help another person to also find a piece of driftwood to keep them afloat, then I will have achieved something.

If my blog alerts people to the possibility that the smiling person sitting beside them in church, or sharing an office with them at work, is really feeling quite broken on the inside, then I will have achieved something.

It concerns me that so many people feel that they have to wear a mask. Lots of people share with me in confidence how they are really feeling, but then tell me that they feel compelled to wear a mask in front of everyone else.

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They are scared of letting other people know how weak and vulnerable they really feel at times.

Why do we spend so much of our lives pretending and hiding behind our masks?

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I did my nursing training in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda in the 80’s.

I remember Sr Bosco handing us out copies of a poem about masks.

I was so intrigued by it that I copied it into my journal at the time. I read and reread it many times, it fascinated me.

That was over thirty years ago.

Has society changed any in all of that time, in terms of our acceptance of each other, in terms of our willingness to know and be known?

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This is the poem that Sr. Bosco gave to us:

Please Hear What I’m Not Saying

Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear for I wear a mask,
a thousand masks,
masks that I’m afraid to take off,
and none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me,
but don’t be fooled, for God’s sake don’t be fooled.
I give you the impression that I’m secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me,
within as well as without,
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water’s calm and I’m in command and that I need no one,
but don’t believe me.
My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,
ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacency.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this.
I don’t want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation,
my only hope, and I know it.
That is, if it’s followed by acceptance,
if it’s followed by love.
It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself,
from my own self-built prison walls,
from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.
It’s the only thing that will assure me of what I can’t assure myself,
that I’m really worth something.
But I don’t tell you this.
I don’t dare to, I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,
will not be followed by love.
I’m afraid you’ll think less of me,
that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,
with a facade of assurance without and a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I tell you everything that’s really nothing,
and nothing of what’s really everything,
of what’s crying within me.
So when I’m going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I’m saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,
what I’d like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can’t say.

I don’t like hiding.
I don’t like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you’ve got to help me.
You’ve got to hold out your hand
even when that’s the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes
the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you’re kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings–
very small wings,
very feeble wings,
but wings!

With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be a creator–an honest-to-God creator–
of the person that is me if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.

Please choose to.

Do not pass me by.

Please do not pass me by.

It will not be easy for you.

A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.

The nearer you approach to me the blinder I may strike back.
It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man
often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.

~ Charles C. Finn, September 1966

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And men too!
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4 thoughts on “The Mask

  1. It really doesn’t matter what people who never knew grief thought of your last post. I admired your vulnerability and I wished we had a resting place for our boy too. And I totally agree, living without a mask takes courage, letting people see our pain is bravery. Thank you!xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautifully put as ever Vicky. You have a talent and a willingness to share honestly that many of us can only envy. 🙂

    Like

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