Do you wear the Mask?

We Wear the Mask….by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

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 overwise,
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!

How many times in your life have you felt like this?  Better yet, how many times have you refused to feel like this, refused to wear the mask when it would have been more comfortable to wear one?  Instead, you let your guard down and became vulnerable.

It is not easy being vulnerable. We want to protect ourselves. We are prone to be ourself  in an  environment we feel safe in.  I can remember a very vulnerable time in my life when my heart was so broken I could not even manage to put the mask on, let alone wear it .  I did reap the consequences of my vulnerability, in what  turned out to be a surprisingly harsh environment.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often and causes us to isolate ourselves, to lock ourselves in our safe house.  Even though time healed the pain and verbal abuse I experienced, the memory of what people said,  stayed with me.  For years I would protect myself when I perceived I was in a similar situation.

As I matured, I realized some people cannot handle the strong emotions of their own grief or heartbreak  let alone someone else’s.  Others, are  just not interested, some are opinionated and others plain ignorant.  So what is a soul to do?  The author of this poem, born on the heels of the civil war, became a voice for his people becoming one of the first African-American poets to gain national recognition.

This poem shares Dunbar’s views on racism and the struggle for equality for African-Americans.  Many other people over the years have identified with the poem’s message but for different reasons.

When have you felt as though you have had to wear a mask? Have you felt that way with the people closest to you? Have you refused to wear a mask? Please comment below and share your heart…….I will pick up here next time.

Blessings, Leslie Rose K

Encouraging body, soul and spirit

5 responses to this post.

  1. I am very famiiar with the mask. I wore mine for the last 4 years of my working life as I drug myself from bed to work to bed again, with only my immediate superior knowing my true self/illness. I finally had to give up work, because I just couldn’t do it anymore, and I was SO relieved to be able to put my mask aside for a time. I bring mine out from time to time, as we all do, but I’m always mindful to put it away again. While I haven’t been able to throw my mask away for good, not having the stress of constantly pretending to feel my best has helped me a great deal. Peace


  2. Posted by Brend on January 26, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    Well this is a great post Leslie and sure has me thinking!! I have worn a mask and there were times I couldn’t wear the mask. I have always tried to protect myself from the abuse that comes from a person that was in my life. But there were times that the abuse was to great and I couldn’t get that mask on. I have since grown and matured, but still at times want to put that mask back on. Only difference is now I have learned that it doesn’t always have to be this way. Thanks for the food of thought today Leslie, I can hardly wait until the next post!!!


  3. Posted by Therese on January 27, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    The mask has been experienced by all. We have all heard at least one of these sayings in our lifetimes; “Keep a stiff upper lip,” “Never let them see you cry,” “If you laugh, others laugh with you, if you cry, you cry alone,” “Keep your guard up.” These are some of the reasons why we have chosen to wear the mask. Often, in our society, it is a necessity to wear this mask. If we don’t, we may be considered unprofessional or inappropriately behaved. I have worn this mask to keep various job positions and also as a way to keep my composure. After all, it isn’t appropriate to “lose it” when we are upset. I also experienced vulnerability when choosing to not wear the mask with those I love and also those who I worked with. It is not a pleasant place to be, but a place that needs to be visited in order to hold onto values and integrity. Society has taught us how and when to use the mask, but the choice remains ours when or whether or not we use it. I believe that the decision to wear or not wear this mask at a given time and in a given circumstance is based on wisdom. Sometimes it is not to protect ourselves but to protect others. At times I think of wearing the mask as an act of faith since we are actually acting in a way that we like others to see (and maybe wish we could do naturally without faking). Sometimes our actions of just doing what we think should be done eventually manifest into us being able to do it and feel good about it. The mask is removed naturally and we become a new person, only to find that before long a “new” mask replaces the old. And so, we begin again.


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