During this unprecedented pandemic with the Coronavirus, the possibility of being obliged to wear a mask is one with which we are constantly confronted. It is not, however, this type of mask to which I wish to draw your attention.
I’m sure we all know what it means to hide behind a mask at times. At least, in theory. But have you ever considered why you might be doing so? Do you ever ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’ Do you ever wonder if the person you believe yourself to be is really you? Or is the real you eclipsed? Hidden behind a facade? Blotted out by the persona you choose to convey?
Ironically, I found myself having nightmares about ‘revealing all’ shortly before publication of my latest book, Picked for a Purpose – memoirs which my publisher had asked me to write. I’d been suffering considerable shoulder pain for almost a year and was feeling the effects of sleep deprivation. It was during those sleepless nights that the Enemy seemed to attack. When asked by others how I was, however, with true British grin-and-bear-it reserve, I would don my mask and reply, ‘I’m fine, thank you. There are others far worse off than me.’
‘Don’t make comparisons!’ my physiotherapist admonished me. ‘Own your pain!’
His words were like water off a duck’s back to me. Until, that is, the nightmares deepened.
THE MASK OF MORALITY & RESPECTABILITY
So why the fear? There’s nothing new about my life-story. My earliest books, published in 1983, had focused on specific issues in my life, the first telling the story of a difficult marriage, the second of the divorce that followed, and the third of the detrimental effect on one of my daughters. Commissions from major publishers had followed, one of which, The Last Mountain: Living with Aids, became a Sunday Times No 4 Bestseller, plus speaking events, TV appearances and radio broadcasts.
Then, in the late 1990s, my writing career went on hold when I was asked to take on the role of Copyright & Financial Manager for Jubilate Hymns – a publishing company whose work was renowned world-wide. It was a fabulous experience but, on retirement fourteen years later, the urge to return to writing was overwhelming.
Having fulfilled my aim to ‘comfort others with the comfort I’d received’ in my earlier books, I now felt I was being told to ‘entertain your readers so they will absorb truths they might otherwise resist’. In other words, fiction, with a message. I was aware, however, that few people would recall my earlier work, and that I was, in effect, starting from scratch. Hence my publisher’s request that I share my life experiences again.
RIPPING OFF THE MASK . . .
I set to and on completion of the first draft, I woke early one morning with a vision – a compulsion I knew I had to adhere to. Rather than simply reproducing my adult life story, I was to include the terrors of my childhood and disasters of my adolescence. I was, also, to add reflective sections at the end of each chapter, showing what I had learned, followed with relevant questions for the reader. The aim, I felt, was to show, through my own experience, some of the mental issues with which young people wrestle today: unspeakable health problems; poor body image; the need for love leading to immorality; fragmented families replaced by gang culture; taking on another persona; and drug addiction – all a means of escapism. In other words, the donning of a mask to hide the real self.
It was to be more than that, though. I was to show the way in which these negatives can bring forth positives, and the discovery of the purpose we each of us have in life. Hence Picked for a Purpose became the title, with a strapline Bearing fruit through times of hardship.
. . . AND BARING ALL
Soon afterwards, during the period when I was finding it difficult to sleep due to extreme pain in my shoulder, a comment made in jest by one of my daughters gave me nightmares.
‘Do you really want the grandkids knowing what a naughty girl grannie was?’ she asked. ‘All those comments on Facebook and Twitter?’
Now I may be a grandma, but I am perfectly au fait with modern technology. Nevertheless, it simply hadn’t occurred to me to stop and think about the possibility of negative comments – perhaps from people who had known of my earlier life – nor the of detrimental effect this might have on family and friends. It was this that was giving me nightmares!
REPLACING THE MASK WITH THE SHIELD OF FAITH
Back in the day of my earlier books, Edward England had introduced me as a ‘best-selling author’. And although I had renounced the title, clearly, in his eyes, I was perceived as a woman of status! Was I now to be seen as something less? Wrestling at night with doubt, I seriously considered throwing the whole manuscript out of the window. Instead, in order to counter those negative perceptions I finished the book by setting out my purpose in revealing all. Here’s what I wrote.
‘The problem is that it’s all too easy to come across as a Victim; a “poor me” inviting pity and compassion. Equally problematic . . . is the concept of conveying an image of sainthood. A “look at me and my faith – aren’t you amazed?” when the reality is that I know myself to be a sinner not a saint.’
As with my shoulder pain, my purpose in writing the book was not to make a comparison between my life and that of others. Neither was it to point the finger of blame at anyone. It was simply to own the pain of my life. To strip off the mask and face the face beneath. To have faith in the One who made you. To rejoice in the Me I am, and the You you are. Frail and faulty – yes! But picked for a purpose, to bear fruit despite the hardships we’re currently facing.
Only then shall we be able to fend off the fear of being seen for who we are. Who we really are! The real Me. The real You. No need to hide. No need for a mask.