Ep. 28 – Phoenix – You Can’t Tell the Heros by Their Masks
To be a hero, you have to hide who you really are. Behind every hero’s mask is an ordinary, flawed human being. We keep looking for people to be superheroes and to rush in brandishing their perfection to rescue us from the flashing swords and flaring dragons.
The problem as well as the solution is that we are just people. Each of us might be the hero needed in any given circumstance.
It’s no coincidence that the comic book and early TV heroes all wore masks. What was behind those masks? With them on, their identity was concealed, the individuals’ flaws were hidden. We trusted them because they weren’t like us. But in truth, they are us.
They seemed to be above all the problems, habits, inadequacies of mere mortals. The creators of these super beings, and even of the villains, usually kept the lines clear between good and evil, but in reality, the lines aren’t that firm. There’s a bit of the hero and the villain in us all. It’s called being human.
All of this points out two different but very related issues. The first is that we look outside ourselves for the solution to our problems. We have little confidence in our own abilities to combat the evil we encounter. Second, we are all wearing some semblance of a mask ourselves. With that being given, how do we know who are the “real” heroes?
Where this all came from happened during a dinner conversation when one of my young grandsons got out of his seat and walked over to me, going eyeball to eyeball. He asked me why I wear makeup. (Yes, having three littles around makes for very interesting mealtime topics. We had been discussing the custom of women shaving under their arms in this culture and how in other cultures it is not so. Don’t ask how we got on that topic. As I said… ) Since his little face was directly in mine, the proximity and the sweetness of his inquiry reminded me of when his grandfather, my dear departed husband, had asked me the same question as he encountered me applying makeup very early in our life together.
As my husband and I were entrenched in a hippie lifestyle at that time, it then seemed incongruent to have had any “plastic” in our lives, so to speak. The need to use the trappings of the culture we were countering, suddenly seemed as odd to me as it must have to my hubby. I didn’t have a good answer for him, so I just stopped using makeup.
That lasted for about 20 years. I do remember why I started wearing “just a little” again. I wanted to hide age spots and other “irregularities” on my face. By that time we were fairly entrenched again in mainstream American life. For me, considering my family and cultural background, makeup is fundamental. One of my female cousins says for a woman to be without makeup is like having an unpainted house. I know that is an odd image, but then we are essentially Texans. Apologies to any bare-faced Texas women, but where our family originated, makeup and the use of heavy hair products are the norm. Anything less is suspect. In fact, women going au natural are called hippies.
So, what does makeup have to do with masks? Those wearing makeup are trying to conceal some things, enhance others. Whatever messages these women have received from society have solidified their practice. But in the final analysis, what you see is not what you get.
I did not answer my grandson, but I know the answer. Part of it is habit, for sure. But the other, bigger answer, is that somewhere along the line I decided that I am not acceptable without makeup. I do not go out in public, and even rarely appear to my family with whom I share a house, without my makeup. Sometimes, just like today, I look at myself without the “mask,” and try to be open to my appearance unadorned. I don’t know why I still have trouble seeing my naked face as being okay.
But then, why do I need to be other than what I am? Why do I need to be perceived as being without flaws? That is the crux of the matter, and I am faced—no pun intended—with not just my imperfections—by my declaration—but also the ravages of time. No mask can conceal who I truly am, just as I don’t need a mask to impact my world for good.
Go out and be a hero. Vanquish the villains that lie within and without, nurture the qualities of selflessness and rescue someone. But when you leave, don’t leave them wondering, “Who was that masked man?” Let them see you are a whole person with struggles just like they, and you were able to subdue your own dragons to come to their rescue. Nurture the hero within.
This story is featured in my book “Phoenix!”
Beautiful stories. Beautiful art.