“We Wear the Mask”

red ink . . .

‘Tis the season . . . for giving and receiving all of those wonderful holiday cards with smiling children and families dressed in matching ensembles. You know the ones! I’m as guilty as anyone. (Truth is I just picked mine up today!) The pictures are always perfect, no warts, but I know for me, at least, there is always a story behind the picture. I know I’m not the only one who has to bribe, and even threaten, the family every year to sit for the picture that they all love after it’s hanging on the fridge. But just before we say “cheese,” I’m usually yelling some instruction or another at my brood and my face doesn’t reflect the smile that you see. (There are five of us and a dog — really — picture yourself making this happen! I’m happy to take any tips! :))

Seriously though, despite the photo magic that we all pull off, this year as in others, our pictures simply won’t show the fears, disappointments, heartaches, and challenges that we experienced over the past year. In our family, we all struggled watching (and holding our collective breath) as my handsome older son — my first borne — had seizure after unexplained seizure this year without any clear medical cause, among other things. We all kept going and kept praying (and thank God, he has been seizure-free for 4 months on medication), but the uncertainty of it, shook all of us on that smiling picture, especially my son, in profound ways.

Barb’s reflection about how some assume that she’s having an easy go of it based on the “pretty picture” she presents, as well as the assumptions that our faith might somehow be absent because it hasn’t yet been specifically referenced, made me think about the weight and importance of that which is unseen.

Especially at this time of year, I’m trying to remind myself in my everyday interactions that there is usually a volume behind the masks that we wear. Just the other day, I received a return phone call from a very official sounding customer service person who had previously only read me the company “policy” about refunds. When I answered the phone, I could tell that she’d had a hard day, so I just told her that I appreciated her calling me back and even apologized for leaving a number of messages during what I’m sure is a busy time. She shocked me when she responded by telling me that she genuinely appreciated my patience since she had been attending to her niece who had given birth to a stillborn baby the day before! I told her that I was really sorry for her and for her niece, and again said that I appreciated her dealing with my issue given everything that was going on. It was a watershed moment. I don’t think she was going to give me a refund at all — honestly, I wasn’t entitled to one given a strict reading of the policy, but that moment of connection, of me looking beyond the mask, softened her heart. She agreed to “check with her manager,” and guess what — the next day, she issued a full refund, even though I’d only asked for a partial refund! More than that, I would have been ok even if I hadn’t received the refund at all given what she told me. It just changed my view. It made me vow to be kinder and more patient with the salespeople I meet in stores this season, but more importantly to be gentle with my friends and family who all surely have stories behind the “pictures” that we see — that which is visible is only part of the story.

(Footnote: “We Wear the Mask” is the title of one of my favorite poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar)

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