Most of us can relate to the stereotypical Asian who is always masked in public. We also thought it quite odd to be masked, but since the Pandemic of Covid-19 most of us have come to recognize the mask as not such a bad thing. After all, masks have been with us since the invention of our personalities. Persona is the Greek word for mask. The thought then is that we are all wearing invisible masks which we can change to fit the circumstances even while one single mask is our true identity, the sum of our personality traits.
There are, of course, many kinds of masks beyond the thespian’s mask or the surgeon’s mask. There are exfoliating facial masks that are suppose to tighten our facial skin and, when removed, our pores’ captive residue is also stripped away. There are Mardi Gras masks, wrestler’s masks, Halloween masks and even death masks. Masks have been with us a long time, both the visible and invisible models.
Long before the unmasking movement of recent ‘covidic’ months, psychiatrists were at the vanguard of proposing the necessity of removing our masks for the sake of knowing who we are. Once we found our one and only true mask, we were encouraged to drop all others and step into reality and freedom. “Be who are you” was a common catch phrase in the world of mental health. The problem, of course, was that we later decided we preferred our old selves and promptly went back to wearing our old masks.
Heroes are often depicted as wearing a mask. Batman and Robin, the Lone Ranger, Superman all are exemples of hidden human virtue that lies deep within humanity. A mask grants authenticity to heroism because a true hero never wishes to be credited or identified. Heroic acts are virtuous which means that heroism is a responsibility of everyone, an innate quality of the virtuous person in all of us. To this end, one can argue that we need more masks in this world, more people to be virtuous.
Masks are also physical barriers. For example, no one can see facial burns if you wear a mask. We all remember the phantom as having to wear a mask because of a facial disfigurement. The earliest version of this story relates that he was born that way. The 1943 production gives the scars to the phantom by way of a splash of acid. Not necessarily disfigured, some people wear masks to covertly slither through life. Of note here would be burglars of the non-brazen variety.
Masks are stereotypically associated with burglars. A burglar who is easily identified would be out work in no time. In the case of burglars, what is important is to cover as much of the face as possible or, in the least, to cover up around the eyes. Years ago, when I was working in a parish basement office, I was told that a man would be coming down to see me. I met him in the hallway and was petrified. As he came around the corner, I encountered a man wearing a full facial ski-type mask. My immediate thought was that I was probably going to be robbed or killed…maybe both. As it turns out, this man came as a penitent, remorseful for having broken into people’ s cards in the church parking lot and taking whatever was available. To clear his conscience, he gave me a bag filled with gadgets that are typically found in a car, flashlights, batteries for example. Wearing the mask of a thief, he repented and when out of view of anyone in the office, he took his mask off and became a clean man.
It is difficult to identify people behind a mask. Routinely, we have to lower our covid masks in TSA and other security check points. By the same token, we are also asked to remove our eye glasses. Little does the checker know that even while we remove our masks, he or she never sees our real persona, our real selves, our real masked selves. Luckily a machine has not yet been invented that can discern our personalities. Perhaps, this will come. In the meantime, I’m comfortable wearing a mask.