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I always thought “the new normal” was a stupid phrase.
But it wasn’t just the words that annoyed me; it was the blind acceptance behind them.
Who gets to decide what’s normal and what’s not, anyway?
I always had hope that things would get better.
And they have.
Last week, after around two years of pandemic life, we started taking off our masks in Portugal. We still wear them in certain sectors, like health facilities, but we can now go into most places without them.
I can work without one now, and it feels so good to have that freedom back.
Yet the first day without it was a little strange—I felt vulnerable.
I felt naked.
I didn’t miss my mask.
But I felt like something was missing.
Something was gone and had left me exposed.
There is a certain degree of anonymity that comes with half of your face being hidden.
Working in hospitality, we try to be as cheerful as possible.
Displaying negative emotions while working in customer service of any kind can appear rude and provoke bad reviews of the business.
Your dog could have passed away or your husband might have left you, but if you want those tips, you wear that smile.
We wear all kinds of expressions at our workplaces. Depending on whom we come into contact with, it could be a strong authoritative façade, or maybe a gentle and soft demeanor that we present to the world.
But what about the interactions we have outside of work?
How about when we bump into an acquaintance at the supermarket checkout or chat with other parents at the school gates?
“How are you?”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
What about when we are socializing with friends, seeing family, or snuggling up with lovers?
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m just tired.”
I smile often—it comes naturally to me. I like and enjoy being around people in general.
But no one can smile all the time.
As we have good days and good moods, we also have difficult days and bad moods.
That is human nature, yet it has become customary to gloss over our darker emotions in the presence of others.
We are not born doing this. Young children display their feelings for everyone to see. My seven-year-old walks around with his heart very much on his sleeve. My nine-year-old is a bit more reserved.
It is, in part, a personality difference, and yet, I question the times when my eldest was younger, and I implored him not to cry at the school gates in case his friends might see.
I thought I was doing the right thing—I didn’t want his friends to laugh at him. He was my first child, and maybe I did not give enough credit to the other children his age.
When my seven-year-old cries at the school gates now, I don’t ask him to stop. I simply hug him. When his friend saw him crying the other day, he hugged him too.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” ~ James Baldwin
Teaching our children to subdue certain moods in order to fit seamlessly into society is just passing down what we were taught ourselves.
Physical mask wearing was new to many of us, but social mask wearing is something we have been doing for a very long time.
That 12-year-old boy who wears a scowl. He is being bullied but is too ashamed to tell anyone.
Boys don’t cry.
That young man who wears a frown. He has been struggling with addiction for years and has suicidal thoughts.
Get a grip.
That teenage girl who wore a smirk—that was me years ago. Desperately shy and insecure.
If I reject them first, they can’t reject me.
That older lady with the cold, hard face has endured hardships we cannot begin to imagine.
Love is a weakness.
The faces we present to the world are often used as protection for the more fragile self within.
But they also keep us trapped inside our own heads along with and alone with any darkness that may reside there.
If you don’t let anyone in, you cannot get out either.
“The Japanese say we have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends and family. The third face, you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are.” ~ Mary Burton, Hide and Seek
How many people see who you really are?