Behind the Mask

Somewhere along the line in the last few weeks I’ve managed to get lost in life. Not in a bad way necessarily. Just in the day to day, which I suppose is a sign that I’m settling into a routine. Classes. Homework. Reading. LOTS of reading. Fascinating stuff really, I assure you.

I’ve ventured into London a few times recently  so that means I’m getting a handle on the whole “public transit” thing. I realized the other day that this is the first time in my adult life that I’ve lived without a car. It is both freeing (hello no sitting in traffic) but also annoying (hello waiting for trains and trying to learn to navigate huge subway stations). Also, hello not just being able to go where ever I want whenever I want (re: the grocery store!) – takes a bit more planning, and time, and effort than I’m used to.

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On one of those trips to London I came across this little gem in the Sutton Hoo exhibit at the British Museum.  It’s a replica of a 7th century Anglo Saxon warrior helmet that was found in the burial site at Sutton Hoo. It’s a replica because the original helmet – that was buried for nearly 1300 years – looks like this:

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Not too shabby for something that spent 13 centuries underground. However, not anything in comparison to what it was like when it was buried.

I started thinking about the two helmets.  Both are on display because someone took the painstaking time to figure out what the original helmet might have looked like all those years ago. They are clearly the same helmet (well, you get the idea) but also very clearly NOT in the same condition. The question that came to my mind is which one is more “real”?  Now the obvious answer may seem like a “duh!” answer. The original. And at this point you may be wondering what exactly I’m learning over here in merry ol’ England. But hear me out.

The original helmet used to look like the replica. But centuries of wear, oxidation, burial and time had their effect on what was once a glorious piece of armor. How much is that like our own life? We wear our helmets and masks to combat our everyday lives. When we are young and hopeful and full of ideals the face we present to the world shines gloriously.  Over time those masks and helmets take some serious abuse. Maybe we become cynical. Maybe we become bitter. Maybe we become resigned. Or perhaps just lonely – hiding behind the now worn armor that can’t and doesn’t protect us as well anymore.  We THINK that the face the world sees is shiny and new. Perhaps parts of it still are. Or perhaps it is totally crumbling and we don’t even know it because we’ve been wearing it so long.

Which begs the question – which is more real? Is, or was, the shiny younger version (the “original” if you will) the real one? Is the life battered, battle hardened version the real you? Or maybe neither one entirely and the real you hides behind the armor regardless of the condition it is in – the world hasn’t ever actually seen the real you.

These are odd questions to contemplate when I’m in a place where no one around me really knows me very well. They have little choice but to accept whatever mask I present to the world because they haven’t known me long enough for me to let the armor down.  The opposite is also true of them, I can only asses any new person based on the face they show to the world. Facing a dearth of experience and time there really isn’t much choice.

As an extrovert you’d think meeting tons of new people is great. And it is. But only so far as I miss my “peeps.” I miss the people who know me well enough that masks and armor aren’t necessary. I am working hard to build connections but that takes time. People can be incredibly unwilling to take off masks and armor. Vulnerability can be painful and scary. But once you’ve found people with whom you can safely be vulnerable – then you will forever long for that connection. That is the deepest desire of human hearts and once found it feels constraining to put the mask back on again. Regardless of how good it looks or how faithfully it has protected us – nothing is more freeing than not needing a mask or armor in the first place.

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Comfortably Uncomfortable 

I’m always nervous before I travel. I have no idea why. You’d think after a certain point it would be familiar, but it never is. I always worry just a bit and feel a tad overwhelmed. So when I took the wrong metro train in Paris the other night I had to check myself- after I was annoyed- and give myself a little grace. 

You see, I really do like traveling. I prefer not to do it alone. Yet even that is becoming more comfortable. It seems that I need to be comfortable in the uncomfortable. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. That and the grace thing. Once I slip into that place of being okay with uncomfortable and offering myself a little grace to be awkward and slow navigating unfamiliar places I can relax and enjoy the journey. Which really is what all this adventure is about, no?