We are wearing them all the time. Do you know you are? We know we are wearing a mask, or hiding parts of ourselves because we are exhausted from the life of performing for people. We come home for work and pass out after meeting after meeting with people we would never hang out with. We cannot wait till our kids go to bed, so we can have a glass of wine, sit, fold laundry alone, or watch something adult-ish on the TV. We dread going to the in-laws or to our own parents because they are super chatty, full of questions, and opinions.
There is one common denominator between all of these. The people we spend our time with, be it children, adults, or elders, all want something from us. And that something is a version of us. It is not the whole of us. The whole us might not be welcome there. Or, we might not have a full vision of what that even is yet. We just know we are exhausted.
We have to be careful about what we express around our children. “Little pitchers have big ears”, said Pa in Little House on the Prairie. And Pa was always right. But bosses don’t usually care about how our personal beliefs influence our decisions. Our mothers are confused by or even terrified of all of the ways we will not mother like them. Our friends might be able to do better, but not all of the time.
For introverts like me, the only safe place is always at home. It is not even with my children most of the time. I am still learning. With them, I have to pretend I give any shits at all about pop culture and the media. Or at least not find it offensive and waste-filled. I care about people, for sure. I love them. But my land, my gardens, the animals in my barn, my work….they don’t require the same kind of energy. Some famous person’s selfie mess-up, weight gain, or new AMAZING song release….nope, don’t care. Never did. Never will.
We put on masks when we act as if we belong there, wherever we are. We put on masks every day until we don’t. And when we stop wearing them, there are consequences. Little by little, they come off. As we get to know ourselves, our deep needs and loves, our core intentions for our lives, we blossom. There is no holding us back. The Maya Angelou quote that I try to embody is this:
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
When we begin to make the assumption that we belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time, the adjustment seems impossibly difficult. I lost a job. I lost friends. I lost a 27 year marriage. I thought I would lose some of my family. A couple of my kids got angry at me. The others were either confused or old enough to be patient. The friends that stuck around either had a lot of questions and took some time for an adjustment. Others came at me with all kinds of questions in a good way. They opened up to me in ways I never could have imagined.
The more I stand my ground and honor my authentic self-and the longer I do it-the more people know they can be honest about even the hardest, most difficult parts of their lives with me…and know that I am not going to judge them. My openness has been a source of their liberation. It was simply mine, in the beginning. But now, it has become theirs.
I write about real things. I talk about real things. I don’t think sugar-coating is helpful. The suffering inevitable in the course of a life is not meant to be kept to ourselves, but shared with a community of support. Granted, some of us find that support in other places better than with people. But, everyone gets to choose for themselves. We all have an obligation to be as healthy as we can, be kind, and be useful to others. We cannot expect the happiness we find in a bubble to be life-giving. After a while, there is no more air left in there, the bubble pops, and we have to learn how to live life with others.
To walk into each space our lives require being unabashedly true to ourselves, is hard work. It is hard work to do well, I mean. It is easy to be a bulldozer for some. We can see what we want and just require the whole world to bow to our needs. Or, we could walk in with a smile and a heaping dose of kindness, inviting others into our world. Some will enter. Others will not.
I have had people say to me, “cut your losses and get out”. This, regarding my marriage and some of my friendships. I am not one to be able to do that easily. Me-the one who invited the soon-to-be-ex to Sunday dinners and Friday night pizza nights for months post move-out. Me-who still feels small and stupid when my kids think I am lame. Me-who puts on an act whenever I know people need me to be strong and happy. It is almost an additive behavioral pattern. But it will shift over time.
The more I read Maya’s words, the more I feel sure that it is possible. I belong to me, wherever I go. I can be kind about it, but I can also be honest, through and through. You know people like this and they are like a sip of spring water. They are easy. There is no guesswork with them. They never have any mal-intent or agenda for your life. They only want the best for you. And they might just help you figure out what that is. And you listen. Because they have wisdom and stories and lessons learned. And you are all the wiser for it.
Whether you peel off each mask slowly or rip them off like a used Band-Aid, they must be removed. Your life depends on it. You might be breathing for many more years to come, but that does not mean you are truly living. That requires commitment to yourself and to all who love you. A new kind of commitment that is about the whole, not just yourself. It only arises when you realize that you, yourself, are part of something so grand and so beautiful, that you could not-even if you wanted to-turn back. There is no going back. Your metamorphosis has begun.