In algebra class, I have
Just explained the quadratic formula, shown examples,
Given both details and the big picture
I try to bring you with me with
Varied tone, quick asides,
Quirky humor, mnemonics,
But when I pause to assess-
Have I lost you? Are you near,
Or a million miles away,
[Do you wish you were somewhere else?]
I cannot read your silent face,
Cannot hear your silent eyes
Cannot see what you do not wish me to know,
Because of your
I know your fear,
I know your frustration, distraction,
But what I don't know is
How to earn your trust
How to coax you into asking questions,
Giving this a try.
The best I can do is to offer you my stories,
"When I was a student," I say,
"I didn't want my professor to know how lost I was."
I wore the same mask that you wear now,
But each of us wear our own faces underneath,
And these masks that we think shield us from disgrace
Do nothing but block us from the warmth of another countenance,
The light in another's eyes.
I interview for the job,
Fielding questions from varied committee members,
I am professionally dressed,
In uncomfortable clothes I would never choose
In everyday life.
Can I talk about a time when I had to
Work with others to solve a challenge?
Can I talk about what I have learned from setbacks?
Providentially, conventional interview advice
Quells my impulse to discuss the time
I checked into our local community
Mental health center for three days,
A setback I learned much from
As I attended group therapy with addicts
As we tried to work together to solve our challenges.
Instead, my expression impenetrable,
I wield words to my advantage,
Smooth talking and fast thinking my way
To more socially acceptable anecdotes
Illustrating assorted professional competencies.
I hope you can see the love in my eyes-
The love I have for these students, for this subject-
But I shield you away from this fear,
In the spring,
The world has thawed,
And during break time at
The department meeting,
You smoke a cigarette in the parking lot
And my instincts tell me
That out of all my new co-workers,
Maybe you- you are the one
That it would be safe to tell.
I know you've had issues of your own.
"I have... a diagnosis."
It feels good to say it.
The mask is hot, and makes it hard to breathe.
Relief feels sweet.
But I may have read the signs wrong; you are kind,
But I sense you find my unmasking
As if I had started to disrobe, or
Show you an unsightly blemish.
"I'm doing really well now, though,"
A quick recovery, in words, if not in truth,
Confident reassurance of the professionalism
I'm sure to emanate at all times.
My mask is intact, clean and freshly pressed,
And ready at all times to align with
Both departmental and institutional objectives.
Going forward, I'll be more careful,
After all, research shows that
The mask is for your protection more than mine.
I do not wish to make you uncomfortable
With what lies hidden underneath.
Fall every year,
For the last quarter century or so:
Gleeful headlines announce
The revolution is here! It is underway,
Because now, we as the human race
Have finally, FINALLY broken free
From the dreadful task of
Physically meeting together in person
And looking in each other's faces
To learn math, or get a job done,
Or have a book club,
Or hold a meeting.
Or exchange soup recipes,
Start a project,
Launch a business,
Or go on a date.
The internet will solve all this for us;
With the convenience of a sterilized, rectangular
Screen, we can encounter each other
In pristine form:
No more acne, bad teeth, bad breath,
Negative emotions, or vulnerabilities involved.
Think of the advantages!
Flexible scheduling, comfortable in the isolation of your own home
We can reach millions around the world in
Ways never before thought possible.
And a measly price to pay: our incarnation.
What good are these embodied bodies anyway,
They break and get fat,
Cry and occasionally fart.
The future of education, socialization,
Or your favorite domain of choice
Is clearly ONLINE,
Where we can set the shortcomings of human life
Behind these screens,
These panes of glass,
We think we can see better than ever;
We cannot see that these screens
Are actually just a kind of
A girl met a boy,
They fell in love
And spent much time, face to face.
They saw goodness, tasted the sweetness
Of growing trust.
They saw pain,
And read fear in each other's eyes.
They found Hope, and hoped in the One
Able to hold all things together.
And twenty years on,
While the roots have grown deep, the girl
Finds herself realizing once in a while
That masks, like weeds, grow when you aren't
That it's easier to give a smile, say "I'm fine"
To keep moving through dinner and baths and bedtime
With fewer words, less revelation.
This one mask I have is actually the color of my flesh;
And I wonder, do you notice when I have it on?
I am back in the algebra classroom
With tape blocking off every other seat
To keep us all apart
And squares of cloth literally
Covering the lower half of every face
And computerized schedules blocking off
Every other day of the week
So that the faces lacking cloth masks are
Safe behind their screen-masks.
Does anyone have any questions? I ask,
They say you can read a lot in the eyes,
But to me the room is full of blank stares,
And on the alternate days, my questions
Are met with muted, blackened boxes.
We have zoomed into our future faster than expected;
And while I've mostly coped by thinking,
"This is only temporary, a short time of extreme circumstances,"
I glance in shock once or twice at headlines trumpeting
"We will never go back to 'normal.'"
But I cannot help but think
That although Christ doubtlessly considered the possibility
Of arranging our penal substitutionary atonement via Paypal,
Thought of making His arrival with a global video conference
Complete with subtitles and break-out rooms for the Pentecostals,
In the end He decided
To actually show up in person
To show His face to the world, his bloodied Head,
Those hands made ugly [made beauteous] with holes.
His countenance shining upon us, full of His glory,
Full of His grace, the outpouring of His love.
And I think of His Father,
Whose most brutal act of love
Was to hide His face from His Son;
Not forever, but for a time,
Just in the time of the most darkness
Just because of His great Love for those He had created
Just as part of this moment of their salvation.
And so I wear my mask for you, today-
Just for a little while
Just because I love you
Though it doesn't feel like love.
Until we have faces,
We see dimly, as in a glass;
But my hope is the promise of Scripture-
Our future lies, not in a screen
Not behind veils
But face to face.
We shall be glorified
We shall all be