Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Masks: A Monologue

A barren stage, with a single chair or stool. On this stool sits ANNE, a woman in her mid- to late 30s, alone, wearing a plain, featureless mask.

ANNE. I imagine you'd like to know why I'm wearing a mask. It's really quite simple: It's better that way for both of us. I don't have to let you see more of me than is safe, and you don't have to know more about me than you feel comfortable with. As long as I wear this mask, you'll see what you want to. You'll accept me, and I can feel as though I belong.

Oh, I know it sounds odd, but it's true. If you knew who I really am -- if you knew for just one minute that I'm -- If you knew that I was a .... That I'm ... If you knew the truth about me, you would want nothing to do with me. It wouldn't matter that we've known each other for years or that our children play together. It wouldn't matter that we believe the same things about God, about politics, or that we root for the same baseball team. If I took off this mask, you would see me for who I am, and I would be alone again.

I know from experience how cruel that rejection can be. I had a friend, Elizabeth. We had been friends for five years, and had no secrets from each other, except one. One evening, when I was lonely and in pain, and I needed someone to understand me, I took off my mask and I let her see my true face. That was two years ago. I haven’t heard from her since.

So I've made my mask as lifelike and acceptable as possible. I've married, and I've had children. My mask lets people feel comfortable around me, and I feel safe, even though the dishonesty cuts me like a knife and there are times I wish it would all end.

The truth is, I've been wearing masks for almost as long as I can remember. I started wearing them in school, when I was a child, because I dreaded being tormented by my classmates. When I reached college, I saw how supposedly tolerant people treated those who wore no masks at all, so I clutched mine tight and never let anyone see the face I hid underneath. I wear one mask at work to help my career, I wear another with friends, and still another with the parents of my children's schoolmates . I have masks for every occasion, for every purpose, and for everyone I meet.

And most importantly, I have a mask that I wear here, at church.

I know a few of you are thinking how wrong I am, that this is one place I should feel comfortable to take off my mask and let people see me for who I really am. I might actually believe that if I thought that you do.

But you don't. I'm looking right now, and all I see ... all I see, is a sea of masks.

Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.


Brian Pendell said...

There isn't a place in this world where I don't wear a mask, play a role. There's one role at work, another role at church, and another role even at home. But I've learned not to show my unvarnished naked self even to my own family, because they can't handle it.

Something to do with the garden of Eden -- ever since the fruit , we've never shown our naked selves to each other, and the idea of truly showing everything to another human terrifies me. They aren't safe.

David Learn said...

And yet how liberating it is when we find those rare and precious people before whom we can be utterly naked, and wear no mask at all.

When darkness falls and we stand amid the ruin of our lives, these are the people whom we don't need to tell, "I screwed up." They know, but they don't care. They're there because we need them to be.

"Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."
-- James Baldwin