It is Halloween and children are carefully choosing the mask they will wear for Trick or Treat night. Some masks will be funny and others scary. Some masks will tell us who the children admire or what the children want to be when they are grown-ups.
Adults wear masks too, but we wear ours year round. We hide behind a funny story and make people laugh. We hide behind a bored face and people believe we are not interested. We hide behind our jobs or the cars we drive – those outward appearances.
We hide behind words. When asked, “How are you doing?” we answer with a smiling face, “I’m doing fine.” While we know those are usually words that are simply a way of saying hello, we also know to be cautious about telling people how we really are – particularly when it is a difficult time in our lives.
Those few times we have dared to say the truth, we have often been left with an awkward silence or an inane remark and a regret that we had not kept our mouths shut.
Every year as I approach the Halloween season, I am reminded of some words that were penned and given to me as a gift from a college student named Jeff, over 20 years ago.
Jeff’s words are framed and hang on a wall in my office:
Don’t be deceived by what at first you see. The noisy crowd around me only fills with empty laughter the corners of a very lonely heart.
I’m on a journey by myself despite the many faces by my side. I live always on the margin untouched by fellowship and unattached.
I use the language of participation and show the signs of social graces well, but if you linger close beside me you may be the first to hear the hollow sound of loneliness, distance and isolation within the guarded boundaries of my life.
My sentence? Isolation from mankind. My history? Fear, superficiality and neglect. My hope? The fragile possibility that someone may break through this empty shell and touch the untouched center of my heart.
I often wonder if Jeff, now an adult in mid-life, still hides behind “the language of participation and social graces.” I wonder how many of us do the same thing.