UNMASKED

Dara LevanBlog2 Comments

Ghoulish costumes and macabre masks will creatively cover Americans on Wednesday. Buckets and bags will overflow with tempting treats as kids celebrate Halloween. We carved pumpkins Sunday with Alec, Zoe, and our amazing aunt. I miss the younger years when the kids zipped like wind-up toys from house to house.

I loved to watch Alec and Zoe dump candy on the carpet as they each eagerly counted their collection. I used to tease them and say, “You know Halloween is for adults, too. Don’t forget Daddy likes peanut butter cups, and I love Tootsie Rolls. Make sure to snag a few for us!”

However, since I was a child, I feared masked humans. Even images of Mardi Gras felt (and still feel) eerie to me. As Halloween approaches, my heart is making clear connections like a complex spiderweb. I now understand on a deeper level why masks unnerve me.

There is a phrase I’ve cited for years: “It’s not that a person changes. It’s the mask that falls off.” This powerful statement is bold, it is brazen, and it uncannily describes my growth. Halloween is a holiday in which humans choose to wear visible masks. What about the other 364 days of the year?

It’s interesting how one word can evoke strong emotions and elicit diverse opinions. The word “mask” generally has a negative connotation. It suggests one may be hiding physical traits (like in the Phantom of the Opera). And masks can refer to the action or inaction of behaviors such as avoiding a persona or pretending to feel something you do not.

Today I ask you to consider if masks are always malicious or deceptive. What if how we define this concept requires us to reflect and look into the mirrors of our own souls? Perhaps masks are not only to cloak oneself, but at brief times in our lives, necessary to thrive and maybe even survive? How do you use your mask? Do you use it for connection or safety?

People use productive masks in particular professions. (I am not referring to surgeons or aestheticians.) Actors, attorneys, salespeople, politicians, and therapists are just a few careers in which masks may support success. This can mean amping up positive energy, conveying a message, or displaying a neutral exterior.

Another example of how a mask may be beneficial is when fighting a disease. A patient may smile at family and friends even during tough days. Others use laughter as a distraction during treatment. I know that humor pushed me through a 15 hour labor, which eventually resulted in a C-section! As I think about that day in 2002, I was absolutely anxious about becoming a first time mommy. However, I chose ignore those fears so my husband and others wouldn’t worry. I peppered the delivery room with giggles to redirect my nerves. 

Standing up to a bully whether in school or the workplace may also require a shield of calm and confidence. Perhaps the bully’s target feels afraid but learns that a fearful demeanor can fan the bully’s flame. The person must gain the strength to stand up for his or herself; and until then, a shield may be a necessary defensive mechanism.

We all knowingly or unknowingly wear masks or use shields during different periods of our lives. And not all of them are evil or scary. Other times sadness is masked by an outer, convincing image of happiness and perfection. This may be due to fear of judgment from others or even ourselves. Or perhaps being “unmasked” wasn’t allowed or accepted during the formative childhood years. 

The masks to which I am referring today are invisible. They may be facades that are perpetuated through inauthentic behavior. I have realized that even some people I know well and love wear masks. On first glance, they may present as beings who are caring and compassionate. When one’s mask comes off, it is difficult, if not impossible, to unsee what is revealed. Some individual’s entire existence is a carefully staged masquerade of shallow moments. 

Original Venetian masks were made by the process of papier-mache. Layer upon layer dries and then is decorated. It seems symbolic and fitting that the tangible mask mirrors the layered ones that cannot be seen.

Masks can be benign, benevolent, and sometimes the wearer can be totally unaware! Although humans can appear beautiful, altruistic, and authentic, dark insecure energy may lurk just beneath the surface. There may be a fragile, and perhaps non-existent, sense of self, which is their mask.

I have noticed others’ masks my entire life. Their show is over. I am not attending or applauding any encores. It’s liberating to find inner peace and accept people for who they are and are not. 

Acceptance and forgiveness takes continuous, conscious effort. This is a daily, deliberate, and at times painful process. You cannot free yourself from spells and charades until you see what or who is behind the mask.

And the dramatic irony? You are the one who suffers—imposters are unwilling to change. In fact, some of the most masterful are unable to remove their costumes. They are petrified to be seen so they continually control how they’re perceived by others. They live their entire lives hiding behind masks.

I have delved deeply and honestly into my own soul. This past year has been especially raw and revealing. One of my favorite writers, Kahlil Gibran, wrote “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.” Why would a young girl deeply resonate with such profound, soulful words? And that girl is now a 44-year-old writer, mother, wife, and more. Years later I have found that line lingering and lately lighting up my being.

With each revelation, my mask is delicately disintegrating. To be candid, I had no idea I even wore any mask at all. I suppose it wasn’t actually a mask but rather a matter of self protection and preservation. I heard my entire life, “It could be worse” and various other projected, distorted messages. It’s scary to be vulnerable.

I speak and write from my heart. I have always done so, and I will forever. For anyone who knows me, authenticity and honesty guides every choice and interaction. I have finally learned to live without justifying who I am.

Evolving and awakening is a work in progress. EVERY soul has a story–I will continue to write mine. My shield has shrunk but it is still with me. I am still guarded but I am unmasked. 

2 Comments on “UNMASKED”

  1. Love this! So many of us are forced to live double lives and once we face our demons and the shame is lifted we take back control of our lives and truly bloom!! The mask was lifted a while ago for me and now I live my best life!!! Thank you for your writings and inspiration!

    1. Malena,
      Thank YOU for reading and reaching out. I so deeply appreciate your words and connection.

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