“When you saw the word mask, was your first interpretation protection, covering up, persona, or performance?”
The NaBloPoMo theme for this month is Masks, presumably owing to Halloween at the end of the month. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in the USA, Halloween – All Hallows’ Eve – has taken on a life of its own. When I was young, it was an excuse to shake down your neighbors for all the candy your mother wouldn’t let you eat the rest of the year; when my mother was young, it was an excuse to commit minor mayhem in the neighborhood (if I recall correctly, letting the air out of car tires was a popular prank).
Nowadays, though, there are costume parties for adults, and people seem to go all out for the scariest persona they can dredge up. Zombies are so ubiquitous that my son has actually declared that he’s sick of them – and there’s a road in South Carolina marked, “Zombie Crossing.” (I suspect my daughter is responsible for that – zombies figure large in her fiction.)
I myself am one of those cranks who think the whole thing has gotten out of hand, and we don’t participate. We don’t ever have our porch light on – the signal that a house is open for trick-or-treating – and should someone wander up to our doorstep by mistake, we hand out nickels. I think the word’s gotten out about the nickels, since no one has come to our door for the past two years.
None of this is where I wanted to go with this post, but I couldn’t resist the detour through the Land of the Cranky Old Broad. In reality, when I hear the word “mask,” my first thought is of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door – who is it for?” What an image: When you are home alone, you wear your real face, but when someone comes to your door, you reach into a figurative jar and pull out whatever face you think is appropriate to the situation, Welcoming or Polite Inquiry or Take-a-Hike-NOW-If-You-Know-What’s-Good-for-You. But none of them is really you.
Do we all do this, I wonder? I do. Although it’s true that I do truly care about the people I know and love, it doesn’t always register that there are Expectations as to how one shows that one cares. So, for example, I have to remind myself to send birthday cards, and I have to force myself to send Christmas cards – even though I’m genuinely glad that these people are celebrating another year of life, and I love getting Christmas cards – just not sending them out. When I meet people in the street, I know how to greet them with the appropriate level of enthusiasm for whatever they have to share about their lives – but it’s all a reaction I’ve learned over many, many years of watching other people and how they handle encounters; it’s nothing I do naturally. Once my acquaintances go their way, they’re off the radar screen.
So…what face do I wear when I’m by myself? Darned if I know – it’s usually buried in a book, or a cross-stitch project. But I can say – and this is all I will say about my true face – when I wear my true face, it’s when I’m at prayer. No point wearing any other, since God is no respecter of masks!