Everyone was on edge. It was the height of pandemic panic and the tension had an unusually eerie feel as it spread throughout the large, mid-city grocery store, previously a hustling yet comfortable place where people greeted each other warmly and loudly with the excitement of a family reunion. But today was different. The first death in the area had just been reported and although unspoken, the question on some minds was definitely, “who would be next?” However, on the other souls of circumspect shoppers was, “are you going to infect me?”
The next scenario is most likely not that unusual, but still troubling. About forty percent of the consumers were sporting surgical masks while others were not. And, as if an other-worldly cloud of mist descended upon the floors like an alien invasion worthy of the Syfy TV Channel, something almost sinister began to happen. The people behind their mask began to act differently, as if protected by some aura of anonymity. The people behind the mask began to sport a superiority complex that for most was completely out of character, that is, without the mask. Overbearing stares and intrusive moves with their mighty shopping baskets began to rule the day. And then there were the condescending hand gestures that treated others as if they had leprosy or worse.
It could happen to anybody these days. And perhaps, it has always been happening but not to such an alarming degree. In some sectors of our country, surgical antiviral masks are becoming a fixture in shopping centers, gas stations and grocery stores and with this surge, there seems to be a shift in behavior. Some have reported a marked turn in rudeness, ugliness and a flair of dominance especially directed to those who, for whatever reason, are not donning the mask. In Japanese culture, there is a well-known application to all of this. It is said that we each possess three faces. The first we show to the world, the second we show to our close friends and family, and a third face we never show anyone. It is this one that is the truest reflection of who we are.
“God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The Lord looks into the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Let’s approach this scenario from two very near but different perspectives: facing the one in the mask and encountering others with our own mask. Remembering that behind every mask there is an entire human life with a story and that each and every encounter we have in this life involves the meeting of hearts and minds and souls with all kinds of rich and amazing episodes. It would be great to remember that everyone we meet is afraid of something, has lost someone, and has a story to tell and share. In some ways, venturing out into the world as we do can be likened to going to a movie for which we have been waiting for with exciting anxiousness and expectation. Wouldn’t you want to know about each of the main characters as the film develops? Don’t you want to know who wins in the end? Isn’t there a sense of accomplishment and finished purpose when, after sitting for a couple of hours, we feel it was time well spent? This, in many ways, is a metaphor for life. Everyone we meet, whether it’s someone close to us or just a passing stranger, has a world that they are protecting and sharing at the level that they choose and are able.
“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” Luke 12:2
If we are to learn anything from the pandemic and the accompanying panic, we must start now in our dealings with one another in as unassuming and unpretentious places like the grocery store, gas stations and yes, even at the workplace. If we are truly to understand our own humanity along with our mental acknowledgement and emotional feedback, effective and/or otherwise, to life’s most compelling and complex challenges, then perhaps the time has come to explore and practice mindfulness in front of and behind the mask.
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different. [It is] enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will) and being present with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” James Baraz
To walk amid the panic-ridden pretense of the world with all its masks and self-righteous behavioral quirks and not be defeated will take practice. Everything good does. I guess you could say that everyone wears at least one mask during this journey, some more than others. The trick is how to keep connection with each other and ourselves to live the miracle of being alive. And for that and in conclusion, just consider the purpose of a dog. Yes, a dog. Our best friend. W. Bruce Cameron summed it up quite beautifully:
“Have fun, obviously. Whenever possible, find someone to save and save them. Don’t get all sad faced about what happened and scrunchy-faced about what could. Just be here now. Be. Here. Now. That’s a dog’s purpose.”
Sounds good to me.
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“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8-9
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”
The thunder-like pounding of heavy, angry feet created the illusion in the office that morning as if an 18-wheeler carrying enough wood to build a city of log cabins was passing dangerously close at high speed. The other secretaries in the cubicle-laden area knew better, however. “She” was in another terrible mood and no one was going to get out alive, or at least, without needing a strong sedative, a bottle of Motrin, a deep skin massage or all of the above. Someone must have contradicted her, called her out on the condescending tones and thinly veiled insults, or finally just yelled back. But that’s all it took to unleash the Kraken and a new level of their hostile work environment that made a pack of hungry, feeding hyenas look like a quilting bee.
Unfortunately, the scenario is not rare and exists in various dimensions and situations wherever the darkness of compulsive, judgmentally-challenged people, usually in some tier of authority, is allowed to run loose and unchecked. The problem is multifold. If we start from the beginning, you know, when the dinosaurs died, etc., we will find the genesis of this quagmire, well, in Genesis! The blame game as it is played all around the world had its origins in that famous garden where there was too much finger-pointing to go around. And when the layers of this petty pastime were uncovered, it led to one source. What was it? How about a hint? It was crawling on its stomach. It should not surprise anyone the very first mention of evil and the demonic from the earliest texts we have, took a strange adjective: accuser. Accusing anyone of everything from taking your parking spot to poisoning your cat, takes on bizarre power and effects. The accused are always caught off guard, placed in humiliating and even a position of defensive weakness, always looking to explain and nearly in an uncomfortable, uneasy manner giving some to believe that the accusation is actually accurate.
This is the goal of the accuser. Knock us down, kick us while struggling to get up and then gaslight us to believe that maybe, just maybe, the blame has been rightfully and justifiably placed. At times, these struggles place us uncomfortably too close to shrew-like individuals that take all kinds of shapes and sizes. One example is the termagant who can surface at home, at work or even in high-profile positions of authority existing in nearly all professions. Termagants are always in a bad mood, whining and complaining, and generally making life miserable for everyone around them. Perhaps, we could also think that from time to time, we, too, may be counted among that number if we are not careful and practice self-awareness. Here is the problem and the justification for our Biblical reference above which warned against trying to pull out a splinter from another’s eye when we have a forest growing in our own.
You see, this is truly deep darkness of the soul that negatively impacts everyone who must face a highly, self-righteous and judgmental person. Hypocrisy, hateful speech, condescending attitudes, distort all perceptions and poison the heart like a noxious gas. To point all the faults of another while hiding behind a thin and tattered curtain of self-made perfection ignores the obvious. Modern-day Pharisees have to strain to see everyone they dislike because they imagine seeing the beams of weakness everywhere, whereas the only real beam is the one lodged in their own eye socket.
Among the many deep spiritual lessons that can be discovered during the virus pandemic and other life challenge is the call on all of us to valiantly struggle against this tendency to assume that our own worldview, often very limited, is the only unbiased, open minded and uncolored norm of judgment, that only we possess clear, unhampered sight. In other words, thinking and acting as if we are the “doctor” in the hospital of life and everybody else is the “patient.” This sickness, affecting the soul much like the actual COVID-19 weakens and destroys the lungs, can be cured only by putting on the mind and heart of Jesus Christ; by seeing my brothers and sisters through His eyes which always radiate love and forgiveness. You and I are called to beg every day to adopt and develop a healthy, realistic worldview where no one is better than anyone else and that forgiveness, if we truly want it at the end of our lives, must be practiced today and right now before yet another minute passes. Life, as it is, clearly remains as fragile as it has ever been noted. We will be able to live what we read in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “only then will you see clearly.”
Let us be open to change our view of the world, or at least, amend it a little. We are all patients and equally in need of help and cure. When seen through these patient, loving eyes, we will have a deep-seated change of heart and find life beautiful instead of heartless. And while there still may be pounding from time-to-time, it will not be the angry stampedes of the maladjusted and hateful. It will be His heart beating for you because that is who He is and that is why He came.Leave a comment (19 comments)