Photo: Meridel comforting a dear friend.

When I say the word “mask” what comes to your mind?
Is it a trick question? No.

I was no stranger to masks because as a nurse, I wore a mask in the operating theatre, or when working with contagious diseases. Wearing a mask was simply considered, “protocol”.

Today, all people in the world have worn masks for over a year now.  I purchase the cheapest most common ones at our local supermarket. It doesn’t bother me that mine are identical to most others. I put my mask on, when I leave the house to go about my daily routine; unaffected by having to wear it. I slip it into my pocket upon returning home.

Recently, my sons and I had a production meeting and they announced: “With the publishing of your latest book, you will need a greater presence on “social media.”

I felt uneasy and my response was negative. I did not tell them why, because at the time, I couldn’t put my finger on, “why”? Whenever we had this discussion; I was flooded by irrational fear. It was troubling. Why was I afraid of so called, “social media”? After all, isn’t this the way forward in today’s world? Our last discussion caused me ”to slip over the edge into panic-mode. It was then I realized I had to pull back, and take time to find answers.

When I was quiet, I remembered, that as a young person, I was painfully private and shy. I chose my friends well;  enjoying camaraderie with both males and females. At get-togethers, I’d be asked to bring the “in house” entertainment. I did so by first putting on a mask. Mysteriously I morphed into a comedian, full of nonsense. I was surprised that by wearing a mask my sense of freedom and confidence grew. Egged on by my friends, I “let go”, embracing the moment. My antics kept us in stitches, as only comic relief can do. For those few magical moments, I crested high on the joyful wave of humor. Afterward I wondered to myself, “Is this the kind of effect drugs and or alcohol has in loosening others up?”

What dynamic was deep at work within me? What was the secret of this new found “joie de vie”? How could wearing a mask make any difference? I considered this phenomen carefully. Why the emotional release I enjoyed?

As a child, I had been forced to be watchful, at all times. I soon grew to be too focused,  too intense and felt too responsible. Why? You see, I worked hard ’not to be noticed’. That was my quest all through those growing up years. I strived to keep a tight reign on my emotions and facial features. That of course, was only in the presence of certain family members. No matter how things appeared, I knew I was not safe. Fear ruled my life, making me ever vigilant and hyper-alert. I tried to keep my distance from “them” by working to be unremarkable, even invisible. For me, being ignored by these few, was imperative. This IS normal if one faces abuse in their family.

I have to remind my sons, “I can’t think of anything worse than people reading my mail? What for?” I respond. “I have lived a lifetime, content to stay out of the limelight. Still Small Voice is the perfect title for my website.”  They shrug their shoulders and in exasperation whisper, “Mother!” I am working to overcome this fear of exposure. 

So to come all the way back to “the subject of “the mask” …
Now, I understand why slipping it on, as a teenager was fun. The flimsy thing gave me a false-sense of privacy and protection. Feeling safe, propelled me to create spontaneous comic relief. I rationalise, the mask provided me with a “protective covering”. Yes, that sounded as irrational back then as it does today. After all, humor was the best medicine back then and still is! 

“So, what difference has the COVID mask brought to your life, if any?”
Do you feel isolated behind your mask? 
Do you chafe under the order of having to “wear a mask”?
Do you believe it keeps you safe as I once did under different circumstances? Do you spend more on unique or special masks?
Do you need to feel, your mask sets you apart from others?
Does it help define your need to be “special” in this “person-less pandemic’?
Or, is the mask a real barrier? What does it stop you from doing?  How about, being friendly? How would you rate your coping skills in this area; 1 – 10?

Maybe this is the most important question we each need to ask ourselves.
“How do I allow the goodness that is on the inside of me to shine out?”
Thank goodness, today, I can say, “I am the same person with or without my mask in place.” I continue to smile at most everyone I encounter. It is gratifying when they smile back, small children and adults, alike.
How do I know they are smiling?
Their eyes are smiling back at me!
Sometimes we even speak.  

Meridel Rawlings

Top Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash