I’m always wearing a mask.
My most important learning of the last week was in those five words, spoken by a woman I admire and look up to and care about.
I’m always wearing a mask.
My heart sank. How can that be? I work closely with this person, and am in multiple meetings with her each day. I think she knows – I assumed she knew – that everyone around her recognizes how smart she is and how capable she is and how funny she is and how dedicated to her job she is and what a wonderful person she is. And on and on and on I could go.
She knows all that, although like all of us she likes to be told sometimes. The issue is that she can’t bring her whole self to lots of places because she’s worried about how that will be perceived. How she will be perceived.
She must remain calm. She must hide strong emotions. She must temper what she says. She must do everything perfectly. She must overachieve.
How exhausting must it be to live that way? To not be able to be yourself. To not be able to relax. To always hold back and hold in. And even worse – to have to watch others who don’t have to wear any masks live and laugh and react freely.
Remember those Halloween masks from the seventies? Those plastic face coverings that were held in place by tight rubberband-like pieces around the back of your head. Comfortable breathing was impossible and after just a few minutes they were full of condensation and became uncomfortably stuck to areas of your face. At least in today’s COVID world, we have cloth masks made of soft fabrics, and still we hate them. They’re itchy and hot and stifling and we don’t feel like ourselves when we’re wearing them.
This week I’ve been following the posts of a couple thousand women in a private Facebook group – women who are trying to have real dialogue about race and equity and love and hate and bias. I have not yet posted anything; I’m simply consuming and absorbing the content. These are things that are resonating most with me right now and as I process the words I’m always wearing a mask.
And finally these words, the rules a nervous Mom has undoubtedly repeated to her son dozens and dozens of times. Rules such as:
Don’t put your hands in your pockets.
Don’t put your hoodie on.
Check in with your people, it don’t matter even if you’re down the street.
Don’t touch anything you’re not buying.
Never leave the store without a receipt or bag, even if it’s just a pack of gum.
Never leave the house without your ID.
My Momma heart is grieved as I think about the fear that other Mommas clearly live in.
Exhausting is the word that keeps rattling around in my head. Fear is exhausting. Masks are exhausting. The list of rules this young man – millions of people – in this country live with is exhausting. Oppression is exhausting.
The last few weeks have – or should have – forced all of us to ask questions about ourselves and the people in our lives. About what makes a good human. About what makes a good citizen. About what makes a good person of faith. About what makes a good American. About unjust laws and unjust systems and unjust humans. About why people must wear masks. About what I have said and done, or not said and not done, that has caused pain for another. About what I can do to create space where no masks are needed.
I can’t fix everything, and I don’t even know how, but I can work on me. And as I’ve been thinking about that I’ve been humming an old song the last few days…
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.