[Un]masked



2019

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

Mask.

I know your fear,

I know your frustration, distraction,

Boredom, regret,

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,

My reassurance.

"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.

Fall 2018

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,

This darkness,

Using my

Mask.

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

Vaguely inappropriate,

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 us.

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

Mask.

Fall 1997

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

Looking

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?

Fall 2020

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

Unmasked.

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