Unmasked

We wait under a warm October sun—in a long line of anxious and eager pretenders.

Princesses, pirates, and Baby Yoda wiggle away in excitement as parents corral them back to their designated, socially distanced marks. In front of us stand a pair of brilliantly-costumed frappuccinos (pool noodles attached to headbands for straws = brilliant) and a toddler-Chuckie waddling around with a knife. Probably not a real one . . . though all bets are off this year, even in a neighborhood costume parade.

My Among Us mini imposter (look it up if you want to open that Pandora’s Box) son grows visibly agitated as the group behind us encroaches on our spot. A tiny dog in a pumpkin sweater yaps at all the commotion in an adjacent backyard. Maybe he’s feeling encroached upon, too. Or maybe he’s making sure his costume doesn’t go unnoticed. A woman with a camera slinks across the street declaring, somewhat apologetically, “I forgot my mask, but I just want a few pictures.”

Now I feel a flush of agitation, too.

Sixty seconds in we saunter past a Trump/Pence sign in front of a house.

My mind cycles back to a parade PDF that explicitly stated, “All participants must wear a (COVID-19) mask and remain six feet apart throughout.” But there’s little time to linger in judgment as the parade line slowly slinks forward. Sixty seconds in we saunter past a Trump/Pence sign in front of a house. It takes me a split second to register a thousand assumptions about its occupants before I spot the medical mask plastered to the sign’s top.

What’s the story here?

It takes me a split second to register a thousand assumptions about its occupants . . .

Vandalism? A symbolic political statement by the owners? Or did someone drop their mask and a nice person hung it there like a lone glove on a playground fence? (Also, eww.)

The tween princess behind me angrily verbalizes a more succinct conclusion. She mumbles something about healthcare through her mask. Yep. Impressive.

Our line snakes through the rest of the neighborhood. Maybe it’s the fresh air or the conflating messages of that first yard sign—somehow I’ve become painfully aware that my judgmental tendencies have shifted into overdrive:  

I judge the costumed dad who let his mask slip below his nose and the friendly neighbors cheering on the parade. I judge their proximity, whether or not they are wearing masks, are or aren’t offering up candy, and have the correct signs in their yard. Proposition 35b?  How dare they! (Whichever that one was . . .) I judge the family who halts the parade so they can snap more pictures.

I even judge a Freddy Krueger mom.

The noisy, sweater-clad dog would have been next if I weren’t so occupied with the others. While I don’t personally know any of the folks on trial here—or the dog— you’d think I could see directly into their souls. Gavel at the ready, I should have snagged a choir robe from church: an appropriate costume for an unqualified judge.

***

Tomorrow, in the US, there will be more judging, metrics, and measuring.       

And election maps. And exit polls. And people wearing makeup and hairspray with names like Wolf, Tucker, and Gayle will stand in front of SMART boards to interpret all the data. They’ll make somber predictions about what these data will mean for posterity—and indirectly—my ability to help my kids with their statistics homework one day. Because I never graduated from the Electoral College, my eyes might glaze over as its numbers flash across the screen. No chance of nodding off completely though, because no one has let us forget: This election is big—possibly the biggest in a lifetime. It’s monumental, unprecedented, Wolf Blitzer’s eighties hair-big. (I’m just guessing here, on the hair.)

I know you feel it too: the pressure from the power at play, the politicization of everything, the pandemic.

Our inboxes and feeds are full of everyone from academics and theologians to second cousins who say so. They fear that if things change—or don’t—the soul of our country is at stake. “Fill in your ovals,” they warn, “with fear and trembling.”

It’s the same feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as you scroll through the Tweets, posts, and news headlines. I’ve cringed as I’ve witnessed the validity of friends’ faith challenged over social media snippets. I’ve heard stories of people shamed publicly for not wearing masks; a close friend was accosted in a park for actually wearing one. I’ve picked my child up from school only to hear that some classmates nicknamed her “Corona” because of her Asian ethnicity. Those I care about have been traumatized, again—and in some cases even more acutely this year—because of their skin color. Label slapping is now the norm, along with hastily-pronounced judgments. People on both sides of the ideological coin feel unheard, unloved, and misunderstood.

If we were to have a Zoom coffee date, I bet you’d have a few stories of your own.

***

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” James Baldwin

***

I can’t tell you what they covered that day. I just remember the final words of the segment. Reveal’s host (NPR) ended the program with a line that haunts me still. It’s their mantra—especially apropos for the investigative journalism they do:

“Just remember, there’s always more to the story.”

Now I’m thinking that it should be mine, too.

Strolling the streets in the parade yesterday, I noticed something I hadn’t before: The masks we wore hid huge pieces of our stories: smiles and frowns, words muffled by fabric, unbrushed teeth. How much more, then, do our metaphorical masks conceal our deeper stories? How many chapters have we missed as we watch from across the way? What if we dared to look beyond the “likes” (or lack thereof), passive-aggressive emojis, yard signs, or social media threads?

What if we just unmasked?

Like Jesus did, revealing Himself to a parade of pretenders passing through the Gospel story:

A Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

The tax collector perched in a tree. And the other one who stayed on the ground and became a disciple/Gospel-writer.

The Pharisee who found Jesus by cover of night—and the truth about being reborn.

Simon Peter: devoted one moment, denying the next. 

Mary Magdalene weeping then witnessing her Lord at the tomb.

Where they wore disguises, He saw souls. One by one, the masks came off.

And the list goes on—in testimonies through time, ideology, revolutions, and world wars; through social upheaval, political power swings, and yes, elections, too.

Tomorrow will be big. But I promise you, the choice to love beyond the metaphorical masks—our own and those of others—will matter infinitely more.  

Because somewhere in that parade list, thanks be to Jesus,

is me and you.    

 

Postscript: Those other masks—the literal ones we have the love-hate relationship with? Choose love, and if you’re physically able, put them on too!

Image Credit: by Tai’s Captures on Unsplash

Nichole Woo
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