Saturday, April 5, 2014

Removing the Mask

There is a comfort in a friendship that requires no pretense. One is free to be just as she is without fear of judgment or ridicule. One is free to say or do or question. One is free to be transparently honest and bare.

There is a dance in the beginning of getting to know someone, a testing of the friendship waters. “Let’s have coffee.” “Sounds great.” You throw out bits of yourself over lattes and scones. You throw out bits meant to appease and attract. Your job, your hobbies, your children, your spouse. After a time, though, you get brave. You get brave, and you toss out an opinion or two. You take a stance. You shed the mask and show a swatch of whom you truly are.

And then it happens.

Just as simply as it started and without any extra effort on your part, you are judged.

Perhaps you see a smile, a nod, a silent response. Very likely it is something entirely undetected by your hopeful eyes. You have been judged and not in the good way. You have been mentally checked off the “friend potential” list. You will never have coffee with this person again. You will never share intimacies, text, phone, or chat online. You will never take dinner after a surgery or loss, vow to be there for a three a.m. call, offer a shoulder or a tissue during a really good cry. You will never watch as her children grow up, as she struggles through a difficult divorce, or as she finally grows into who she always has been.

Perhaps, though, your words work themselves through the ears and wind themselves through the heart of this newly made companion of yours. Perhaps they fill a void where a void was wanting to be filled. Perhaps they resonate as words that might have come from your friend herself, cementing a connection that was in no further need of cementing. Not only do you finish your coffee, but you have many coffees for years to come. You meld yourselves into each other’s lives. Days pass, months. It is year on year that the two of you continue to lean on the other. For encouragement, support, consolation, and love. At some point in all of this, and when that happens I am not for sure, the two of you become one. Joy becomes more expansive when shared with this friend. Sorrow, less heavy. You want to run, first, to the other on hearing good news. You want to run, first, to the other on hearing the bad.

With most you erect a wall. You explain, describe, dismiss, and define. You decide for others what you will allow. They will not be privy to your innards, your soul. They will not be able, nor allowed, to read in the margins, off your draft, or between the spaces of your prettied up lines. They will believe the smile, the mask, the beautiful words. They will believe it because you have led to them to think that it is just so.

With this true friend, however, there are no walls. Neither is there explaining or dismissing. You may try if you like, but your friend will know. Your friend will know who you are and what you think and why you do the things you do. Your friend will know, sometimes, even, before you will know yourself.

It is a good feeling to allow oneself to be true and real, to shed the mask and lay open and bare. It is a good feeling to not have to try or pretend or excuse, to be just exactly who you are and to know that another knows you in this way no matter how much you might try to hide.

And, yet.

This is the most vulnerable place one can be.

I should end this essay on a positive note, I know. For the life of me, I cannot do it. Exposing oneself, sharing with another what is so deeply inside leaves one at unspeakable risk. Yes, it brings a feeling of joy and pleasure and love. But it leaves one, too, vulnerable to separation, anger, and death, vulnerable to forces that darken the heart, that pierce the soul.

It is easy. It is easy to wear the mask, to erect the wall. It is easy, but it is not good. The soul needs to breathe. The heart needs to speak. If, with that joy and love, there comes sorrow and pain, if with that exposure there comes risk, then so be it. A life lived without sincerity or feeling, a life lived without sharing of oneself, a life lived without baring one’s soul, is, in the end, no life that was ever really lived.

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