Do We Become the Mask We Wear?

Photo of a painting by Marilyn Zapp

For two years, we have hidden behind masks for health purposes. It has not been fun albeit necessary. All the while I have meditated daily on the consequences of blocking our faces, such important nonverbal communication indicators of feelings. I have especially lamented the detriment to small children and teens – not only the fear of other peoples’ germs but also the potential loss of skills in interpreting facial cues. Research for ions has revealed the importance of learning these skills as infants. My youngest granddaughter was born in September of 2020, at the height of the pandemic. In her first year, she was exposed to no one without a mask (except immediate family members). I constantly fretted, along with my daughter, and we made a constant effort to emote unmasked when in the confines of home. Even though she seems very well adjusted 19 months later, I still wonder what has been lost. But masks have always been a constant source of contemplation for me.

In summers long ago, I took my girls to the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach. It was a pilgrimage of sorts into the world of local art and hand-crafted treasures. On one such visit, I became enthralled with a painting of a young woman holding a mask by artist Marilyn Zapp. Both the mask and the woman are crying. Underneath is an inscription: Do we become the mask we wear? Then, having just facilitated youth retreats exploring the false and true self, I felt compelled to purchase the painting. It has hung in my office ever since and I have used it as a springboard for many interesting discussions.

This past weekend, I spent a day of retreat with my 15-year-old granddaughter, Elaina, who celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation yesterday. Because of the pandemic, her two-year preparation was conducted wearing masks at all times and did not include an overnight retreat, often a highlight for many teens. Even though having a one-on-one with her grandmother could hardly compare, she sweetly accepted my invitation and we had a treasured time together. We talked a lot about masks, not only the PPE ones she had to wear the first two years of high school but also the invisible, psychological survival masks we think we have to wear to be accepted. I asked her to select magazine photos to represent the different masks she wears with friends, parents, herself, and God. Then she arranged them in a collage on a paper mask. Her photos were touching, revealing, and poignant; the discussion honest and deep, much more symbolic than the medical mask, which she said she was “used to,” and “did not mind.” I marveled at how adaptable we all are and cried inside about that reality.

Once again, masks are back in the news cycle, filling us with confusion, anger, and fear. People are so divided over this issue! Elaina and I ruminated over why we are not more concerned about the fake masks we are forced to wear every day. As my painting reminds, if we are not careful, the false self does become what we think is our true self. A tragedy. A lie. The true self, often hidden, dormant or disguised, is the innate “image and likeness of God,” the “Christ within,” emanating from every soul, the love that binds us together for eternity, the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. As I told Elaina, it will take us a lifetime of diligent effort to shed the masks of the false self and allow the Christ within, the true self, to stream out into the world. But it’s worth it!

One thought on “Do We Become the Mask We Wear?”

  1. It is so wonderful what you offered to her Confirmation experience with your one on one! Back in the day @ the Discovery Retreats with this image of yours plus Cheryl G’s segment & speech on this subject at our retreat…is still a highlight of the most memorable presentations of our many years of Discovery Retreats. Thanks for the memories, which are still relevant today, with our former real pandemic masks & hidden masks we wear.


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