The Masks We Wear

By Alex Cohen

October is the first full month of fall. The changing color of the leaves gives us the most incredible backdrop, while reminding us how terribly small we are in the universe. You can’t drive by without noticing the beauty of Mother Nature; it’s too big to miss. You get to enjoy this for at least a month before the leaves start to fall reminding us that winter will soon be upon us.

In some cultures, October is also the month to remember the dead by celebrating Dia De Los Muertos. I have been to my fair share of funerals and one question always comes to mind: “Why do we wait to celebrate people after they die? Why not celebrate someone’s life while they are alive and with us?”

When I turned 50, I wanted my party to be a FUNeral. I wanted to have my friends stand and talk about how they really feel about me – good or bad… My friends thought it was a crazy and morbid idea so it never happened. I urge you – please don’t wait until someone you love is dead before you tell them all the wonderful things you think of them. Instead, share your favorite stories now so they can relive those moments with you again. If you are holding a grudge against them – let it out and let it go. Let this month be the month of memories shared with the living.

That brings me to the theme of this blog, the masks we wear.

The Masks We Wear | Steven & Alexandra Cohen FoundationSome of you may be old enough to remember the plastic costume masks made with the cheapest-of-all, thin plastic (but that could cut you if it had a nick in it) – the ones that were attached to your head with a thin white elastic string that was always too tight, holding the mask way to close to your face. The eye and mouth holes were cut way to small and never in the right places, needing a lot of maneuvering. Add in the moisture and clamminess of your breath, creating condensation and sweat… FUN!

We wear masks for many reasons, good and bad. We wear them to hide our identity, or become someone else for a little while. Festivities and Holidays such as Halloween and Masquerade Balls are chances to become what you want to reflect, a villain, a princess, a prince, or maybe even a monster, usually just for fun, but sometimes I wonder what the mask we choose really says about us.

The reality is, we all wear masks daily. We are one person at home, another in the office and yet another around our community and friends. With all the masks that we wear, do we eventually lose sight of the original person we are – the person behind the mask?

Technology has also become another mask we use to hide behind, to protect ourselves and sometimes to impress and entice others. We post happy pictures of our families and ourselves on Facebook to give the illusion that all is perfect in our lives; when in fact many of the people who post these photos are actually suffering terribly, whether emotionally, physically or financially. Still, the mask goes up and we portray happy… happy… smiling… smiling.

We spend most of the day with our face buried in front of a different type of mask – a computer, phone, or other device – as if we are hiding from the reality that is the world. We also live vicariously through the lives of those we follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. These are just more masks that we don. We barely look up and notice others around us, eventually forgetting they even exist. Lift your head, notice what is right in front of you, another person in need of a smile, a beautiful tree with changing leaves, the sky, a newborn baby yawning… Life is not to be missed – it passes too quickly before us, pay attention!

If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are all guilty of wearing masks and, in a way, I think it’s a form of survival. For me, it started when I was a young adult. I was the youngest of three girls and I knew that it was up to me to get us to a better place in life. I donned my mask of professionalism, even though I had no clue what I was doing. I surrounded myself with people smarter than me, who taught me, and eventually I became my own version of the person I was trying to imitate.

Then, I married an incredibly accomplished man and my sophisticated intelligent mask went up, I liked this one the least. Once my confidence in myself and who I really was grew, I had the courage to remove that mask and leave it behind. Even today, I am still finding myself and removing other masks along the way. It’s part of growing older, you no longer “give a crap” as much about the little things or what others think of you. Time continues to get shorter and instead of putting on new masks, we need to accept the true us and take off as many masks as we can. Once we do that, others have no choice but to accept us as we really are… or not. It will be up to them.

I may no longer be young and thin but I enjoy the wisdom that comes with age – and my bacon, pizza and wine dinners with friends (I would never give that up for being thin and miserable). My face is the original mask I was born with and its age comes with experience – I don’t want anyone messing with that, it’s the one mask I would like to keep intact! Not only do I want to be my true me but I want to look like me too!

My message to you is wear whatever mask you need to in order to get you through hard times, or to get your foot in an important door for your growth. However, pay attention to why you chose that mask in the first place. What you are gaining from it and when can you remove it? Most importantly, please never let it become who you really are. Be true to yourself always, no matter what you may lose along the way. In the end, you should be the most important person to you – everything and everyone else will fall into place.

Come out from hiding! It’s not so bad out here…