Living in isolation hasn’t been so bad when you look at our situation with a silver lining. Admittedly, one area that I struggle with a bit is donning a mask to safely walk around in public. It is uncomfortable, awkward, and just outright strange. When wearing my mask, I feel like I am in a movie or a dream that I can’t change or wake from.
A package recently arrived in the mail from a loved one. It was a set of four masks for each of my family members to wear when leaving the house. I figured I might as well join in with everyone else, unsure if I am protecting myself, others, everyone, or anyone. I enjoy getting out and will generally do my part with the big grocery run on the weekends. Being social and around people is my comfort zone, where I get energized. When I wore the mask for the first time, I only noticed my eyes and wrinkles. The mixture of my age and the anxiety of wearing the mask are highlighting the wrinkles.
I put on my glasses and headed into the store, wiping down anything I touched, including the handheld self-checker tool. I began to walk to the left side of the store, where I always start in the fruit section, and I could barely see the fruit section right in front of me. All of a sudden my glasses began to fog up, as my breath funneled up my mask up to my eyes. I took off my glasses and noticed a woman looking at me without a mask. She gave me a big smile, likely making light fun of the situation and letting me know that it is okay. I smiled back at her, acknowledging her and thanking her for her warmness. It was nice to experience a human interaction with someone and to both see the humor in this crazy situation.
I grabbed a bunch of fruit and headed towards the veggie section. I thought for a moment about how thankful I am for all the people that keep the stores fully stocked, enabling us to get food and to feel some sense of normalcy in all of this. Next, I went on my way to the empty meat section, where I began to realize that the woman never got to see my smile back to her. I had my mask on and she only saw the wrinkles on my face move. That is not at all the connection I wanted to put out to the world. Ugh! My inner desire, in situations like this, is to let people know I care and to appreciate them. I failed, with my mask getting in the way, and I should have spoken up to say thank you for the warm connection. Even though I try to choose the positive side and see the silver lining in most things, she will never know that I appreciated her.
As I continued to walk through the store with my mask on, I was zoning out to music. Listening to a John Mayer song, I reflected more deeply as I arrived in the dairy section. The mask remained top of my mind. I began to recall a story from Rich Sheridan’s book, “Chief Joy Officer,” where he speaks to a study that was done about the mask we don and how different what we are saying on the outside of the mask versus the inside of the mask, with the inner side being what we really want to say. I then started thinking about my days as a VitalSmarts facilitator where I helped people learn the skills to successfully conduct “Crucial Conversations.” One of the watch-out points from this VitalSmarts’ research is for people to be aware of when they are masking certain feelings that are getting in the way of authentic dialogue and desires.
What I strive for daily is to bring the best out of people and to enlighten people to release the beauty inside them to the world. The irony here is, the masks we are wearing are a metaphor of the shell we walk around in, afraid to be vulnerable or to openly share feelings that should be shared for better human interactions. I have heard people say they love how I am a rock for them in uncertain times, or how my emotions don’t sway too far in any direction. Some people have gone so far as to say I seem too uptight or emotionless. There are good and bad takeaways in these comments. Like the woman in the store not seeing my emotional connection with her because of my mask, I started to recognize there is this invisible mask that each of us actually wears every day. I realized I wear mine out of self-protection and when I do unmask myself it generally results in the most beautiful moments of human connection.
I am doing my best to see this pandemic as a learning moment. Standing in the frozen food section with a bit of a chill, I committed to share more of what I feel and to connect with those on my path. I can take action and steps to get myself out in the world and to share the way I want to share. For example, I have inconsistently shared hugs and told people I love them or appreciate them over the years. I plan to unmask how I feel and bring consistent clarity to the world as to what I am genuinely feeling. It is time to dig deeper and to understand my part in things, and to then openly discuss my feelings with the people that matter most in my life. At the end of my grocery run, I arrived at the checkout counter and saw that same woman from the fruit section and made a point to say thank you for our earlier interaction and she smiled. It is never too late to make a difference.
Will you join me on this journey? We are living in different times, which require us to live differently. It is a great opportunity to look under your own mask to see what you really want to share. Consider taking steps to resolve lingering issues or to celebrate out loud. Together, our collective endeavor to seek love and happiness can overpower the feelings of isolation or the feeling of hiding behind a mask. We can and will turn these uncertain times into times of solidarity. Authentically share and unleash the possibilities all around you! Start with yourself and begin to live your possible!