One Thousand Masks and a Tiny Pair of Wings
Though not for the first time, I ran across a powerful thought the other day. It struck me as being so significant that I’ve decided to turn my entire column over to it. I have not been able to locate the source who penned these words . . . I would appreciate a phone call from anyone who recognizes the verse’s author. It is entitled Please . . . Hear What I’m Not Saying.
Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the mask I wear. For I wear a mask, I wear a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them is me. Pretending is an art that is second nature with me, but don’t be fooled.
I give the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without; that confidence is my name and coolness is my game; that the waters are calm and that I’m in command and I need no one. But don’t believe it; please don’t.
My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask, my ever-varying and ever-concealing mask. Beneath lies no smugness, no coolness, no complacence. Beneath dwells the real me, in confusion, in fear, in loneliness. But I hide this; I don’t want anybody to know it. I panic at the thought of my weakness being exposed. That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, a nonchalant, sophisticated facade to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows. But such a glance is precisely my salvation. My only salvation. And I know it. It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers that I so painstakingly erect. But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare. I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by love and acceptance. I’m afraid that you will think less of me, that you’ll laugh, and your laugh will kill me. I’m afraid that deep down inside I’m nothing, that I’m just no good, and that you’ll see and reject me. So I play my games,
my desperate, pretending games, with a facade of assurance on the outside and a trembling child within. And so begins the parade of masks, the glittering but empty parade of masks. And my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter with you in the suave tones of surface talk. I tell you everything that’s really nothing, nothing of what’s crying within me. So when I’m going through my routine, don’t be fooled by what I’m saying. Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying; what I’d like to be able to say; what, for survival, I need to say but I can’t say. I dislike the hiding. Honestly I do. I dislike the superficial phony games I’m playing.
I’d really like to be genuine, spontaneous, and me; but you have to help me. You have to help me by holding out your hand, even when that’s the last thing I seem to want or need. Each time you are kind and gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings. Very small wings. Very feeble wings. But wings. With your sensitivity and sympathy and your power of understanding, I can make it. You can breathe life into me. It will not be easy for you. A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls. But love is stronger than strong walls, and therein lies my hope. Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands, but with gentle hands, for a child is very sensitive, and I am a child.
Who am I, you may wonder. I am every man, every woman, every child . . . I am every human you meet.
Steven M. Gentry, PhD., is a Child & Family Psychologist and the Executive Director of
Psychological Assessment & Treatment Specialists in American Fork, Utah