Monday, November 27, 2006

we wear the mask

I recently had the privilege of spending an afternoon in the Saint Louis Art Museum with my fairly new boss, who is a budding student of art. I am not art savvy by any means, but there was a piece in the Rachelle Puryear exhibit that caught my attention and continues to stick with me. Ms. Puryear's exhibit combined poetry (written by others) with etchings of her own. The piece that caught my attention was accompanied by the following poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

I love this poem. I read it once in a high school literature class, but had kind of forgotten about it until I chanced upon it at the art museum. I love this poem now. Most of college, I did just what this poem talks about...I wore the mask that grins and lies...I smiled, but cried in my own room...I sang, but trudged on...(although I think I became a literal better singer because of it). Why did I do this? Perhaps it was the thought that I could better help others if they thought I was happy and put together. Or maybe it was that I thought I could handle life on my own...who can really handle life on their own? Or maybe I was too busy to allow myself the freedom of being real.

No matter the reason today. I now live by the "masks off" principle. I don't feel that I have to go into detail every time I'm asked how I'm doing, but my response reflects the true state of my inner self. I expect the same from others as well. They don't have to explain to me the reason behind their answer, but they must not grin if they don' t feel like grinning. They must not wear the mask. It surprising, the freedom that comes with the truth. That comes with the sharing of honesty.

Let the world count my tears and mask has been torn away!