Friday, December 10, 2010

Masking Truth

In the early days of grief I felt that my forehead had been stamped with the words DEAD BABY. How strange to find that in a matter of weeks the feeling changed to its diametric opposite; I felt suffocated by the mask I felt I was almost always wearing in order to appear minimally functional. My face -- with its default impassive expression -- became a kind of scab to staunch the appearance of bleeding, but for a long time after, I was still actively bleeding just below the surface. Though I think the most acute despair of grief is behind me, I have been intermittently bleeding and picking at my scab ever since.

I started a new job 8 months into this altered reality and I had to try to pretend that it wasn't a huge mistake for my new employer to hire me. I was so afraid of who I had become or what my grief had reduced to me to that the job wasn't ideal and it certainly wasn't some great career move, but it got me out of the house and out of my head. I needed that desperately. Left to my own devices, I was digging deeper and deeper into despair, isolation and self-flagellation.

Now four years after that pregnancy that changed everything, I don't know what I am feeling. Stronger and ready to move on from this soft landing spot that has become quicksand in its turn. Grateful that in the time since then I have found people in whose company I feel understood. Sadder because I see now that the masks serve a purpose. Sometimes, without their benefit (that is, of my own mask and the ones others wear), I am overwhelmed by the pain everywhere all around, particularly in this online world where we lower our defenses more readily. I often lack the strength these days to bear necessary witness without succumbing to a paralyzing sorrow. It is one thing to know, even viscerally, that we each have a story. It is another thing to be able to read so many of them in their unvarnished states, even as they are unfolding in some cases. Perhaps this is one form of the collateral damage of the blogosphere and the sense of community it engenders and enables.

D and I watched The Stoning of Soraya M. a couple of nights ago. [This is not a "spoiler" kind of movie, but skip this paragraph if you do not wish to read about the film.] Despite the late hour, I couldn't hit the pause button and though D decidedly does not share my love of (obsession with?) morose foreign film, he couldn't turn away either. This movie left me a sobbing mess, but here's the rub. If anything, the movie flattened out Soraya's story to deal with how she came to one of the most unjust, horrific ends I can imagine. Understandably, it did not deal with other horrors she endured and about which I only later learned. It made no mention that her husband to whom she was bartered away by a father who both jettisoned her at 13 and disowned her on the day she died was a petty thief. The story version of her life reduced her brood to 4 children, from 9, and made no mention of her two stillbirths. It was tragic enough, to be sure, that she was stoned to death at 35 because her husband was a thug whose power over his wife was so complete that he could have her killed by a mob that included her two eldest sons on the breath of suspicion. I am not doing this story justice and it's really not the point of my post. I'm just flattened by the truth of this and am humbled and shamed by -- not simply the relative equality and respect I enjoy, but -- my undeserved privilege by comparison. It is not a story we don't already know. It is just that I have to meditate on it often. I have to remember when I am feeling unfulfilled by my career and at those times when my children are trying my limited patience. I have to both remember and yet somehow keep moving.

I think I am not alone in saying that sometimes I am more inspired to write than other times and there is no simple answer for why that is. So many topics have been swirling in my head that I don't feel able to or have the time to flesh out adequately, giving them their due. It is also true that sometimes I cannot read any more. I am sitting at my desk in my office where other people purportedly work and multiple times today I have switched to my reader to read a blog or an article only to leave with tears in my eyes. I can't do it again. I have to wear the mask sometimes not only to obscure my own pain but also the pain I read and see in the lives of others.

The strange mixture of love, empathy and loyalty that we feel for one another is the product of connection. You see sites everywhere that have little social networking icons and they cheerfully announce "We're social" or something along those lines like it's all song lists, likes and Farmville. I enjoy the entertainment. I really do. Sometimes it is just the thing. But more importantly, part of the reality of being "social" is interacting with people when they decide to take their masks off for a while. It is often sublime. It is stained with blood, too. What a responsibility we bear to each other. What an amazing opportunity it is to banish isolation, to practice compassion. I am so often in awe and I hope for those moments of strength when I can rise to meet this gift.


  1. holy shit, Audrey. Stunning, stunning post.

    Rendered a little awed and speechless right now. But I will be back.

    And until then, have I mentioned lately that I love you?

  2. I love this post! Totally with you on the mask... mine is a frozen grin that pretends to be okay when really I'm not. Blogging allows us to do that, take it all off and just BE. Good, bad, ugly and whatnot.

    Your last paragraph blew me away. Yes, yes and yes. Thanks for rising to write this post.

  3. Like m, I've read this post a few times now and I simply don't know what to say. Most unlike me.

    I think those masks serve a purpose too. Without them I sometimes think that the world would simply stop spinning, weighted down by all the sorrow that would suddenly appear. Stories like Soraya M's make my own seem but a mere scratch.

    I often cry at work too. x