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Me and My Mask

As you know, there is a lot of attention on mask wearing right now. But the truth is, people have been wearing masks long before a worldwide pandemic. Yes, this includes myself, and practically every other humanoid on the planet. The masks that we wear are not designed to protect us from dangerous particles in the air. The masks we all wear are designed to protect us from exposing different personality traits, or our emotional and mental status.

Before I go any farther, please know that there is no judgment in this article. I myself have been a mask wearing person for as long as I can remember. I’m not even suggesting that there is something wrong with wearing a mask that hides who we are or how we are really feeling. You see, we often put on a mask incidentally rather than intentionally. In many cases, we don’t even realize we are doing it. Some might call it a psychological defense mechanism, while others may call it a crutch. But one thing is for sure, we all wear masks at some point and for different reasons.

I recall an often-comical example of wearing a mask that goes back to my days as a pastor. Church people behave a certain way at church. More specifically, they behave a certain way around the pastor while at church. When I would see church members outside the church setting, they would be completely caught off guard without their church mask. If I saw them at the local Publix, or at the Friday night football game, they had no idea how to interact with me. It’s not that anyone behaved badly in those settings, they just behaved differently than in the church setting. So, people were more like Pinocchio – a wooden version of themselves instead of being “natural”. I’ve heard this same scenario from numerous other pastors I’ve known over the years.

Let’s consider this idea of wearing a mask with a few other examples. People have a mask for work, home, school, and virtually every place they go. But masks aren’t just for the places we go to, but the problems we go through. For example, the person who has known grief has a “normal mask”. Let me make a statement that I really need you to hear. Just because a person does normal things, doesn’t mean everything is normal. Observers will see someone who has faced tragedy doing normal activities and think to themselves, “I guess they are all fine now and everything is back to normal”. That would be a mistake. In fact, to assume the person in the cubicle next to yours is normal is a mistake. They make their copies, send their emails, and answer their calls just like everyone else. But you have no idea what they are going through. They are just wearing their work mask.

Once upon a time when I was in high school, there was a school shooting in the parking lot after school. One teenage boy shot and killed another teenage boy. Here is the thing, I tutored that boy that did the shooting, killing, murdering. Every day I sat in a desk in front of him and helped him with his math. You know what I thought, “He’s just a normal kid like the rest of us”. I was wrong, he was just wearing his school mask every day, until he didn’t.

People wear masks for all kinds of reasons, perhaps some good, and some bad. But make no mistake, everyone wears them. We wear them in our relationships with our loved ones and families. We wear them to hide what we don’t want to see in ourselves. We wear them.

In light of this, how do we honestly interact with people all around us. Well, I don’t have all the answers, but maybe there is one thing we could try. Instead of looking at the mask worn by the person in front of us, we could try listening to the words spoken by the person in front of us. I remember when I was a pastor that a lady came to the church and rang the air-phone buzzer. As I responded to her through the intercom system, she began to explain her need. She asked if our church was the one giving out free food that day. I told her that we were not that church, but if she needed food, I would be glad to help her. So, I walked down the hallway to let her inside. I have to be honest; I had a picture in my mind of what this woman would look like. After all, I had seen this scenario countless times before. She would be in worn and dirty clothes, her car would be rusty and likely have a window missing – covered by plastic and tape, she would be overweight and a very unhealthy-looking white woman. I was wrong. She was an attractive middle aged African American woman who was well dressed. She drove a nice car and yes, even had a good job. She was a school teacher in one of the local schools and had her teacher badge on. Now, if I had looked at this lady before I listened to her, I would have said, “No way she needs help”. By listening first and hearing her heart, I saw her in a way that I never could have by looking at her appearance. I would have only seen an attractive, educated, well dressed woman. I would have only seen her work mask.

We never know what people are going through in their lives. At the risk of being repetitive, just because people do normal things, doesn’t mean everything is normal. I hope I become more aware of the mask that I’m wearing at any given time, and I certainly hope to look beyond the masks worn by others.

Live Your Legacy!

Jeff Duncan

President / Founder

Lorielife Legacy Cancer Foundation

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