Countdown to Lent 2022: Masks

Three women wearing lace half-masks to cover the top part of their faces.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

This weekend, we should be hitting peak Carnival.

Except Rio de Janeiro  has moved the city-galvanizing Samba competition to the final days of April, to try to get out from under the Omicron spike. In a world of weird developments, could any of us have imagined that the Sambadromo would be cancelled one year and then delayed to beyond the pre-Lententide?

Venice carnival is a mostly masked affair, which is maybe helpful in the Safety in Time of Covid guidelines. Whereas last year there were cautions about social distancing splashed across the top of every page of the Venetian carnival events, this year that kind of helpful information is gone in favour of how to find ATMs and public toilets.

And I guess we have to come to terms with getting on with our lives in a world where COVID is a thing. We all decide our comfort levels with crowds and vaccines and boosters and masks and whatever else this new world order means.

And so, to the topic of masks. In a mental heath session a while back, someone said the pervasive self-care mantra “you have to put on your oxygen mask before you can help anyone else”. Not long after, I read an article about whether, when a superhero wears a mask, they’re hiding their authentic self or their alter ego. I’ve looked at that through a few different lenses – The Death Eaters in Harry Potter (not hiding, exactly, but being hella creepy); vigilantes in the form of Zorro (who hides his face and signs his name) and the Lone Ranger (who deceives his foes into believing he’s dead); The Man in Black/Dread Pirate Roberts (with Wesley kind of being a giant douche because Buttercup didn’t recognize him); Mr. Incredible and the Supers (trying to live a normal suburban life without their super-suits); Rosaline, Maria, Katharine and Boyet (who disguise themselves as each other to expose the shenanigans of the men in Love’s Labour’s Lost). Even Batman hides his truth with the Bruce Wayne mask. 

Off the pages and screens of pop culture, masks aren’t quite so literal. You want to hide your identity – or facets thereof – just put on a figurative mask and bingbamboom, you can be whomever you want to be. Sidebar: When I was in high school, and wasn’t loving the person I was, I did theatre, where I could study my script, put on my costume, and be someone else for a while. Save for one unit about Commedia Del’Arte and the associated masks, the process of “Getting into character” didn’t require any facial disguises. The escapism of Miss Morris’ Portable 8 (for classes and show practices) and the Summer Theatre Program I attended for most of my childhood was so necessary to getting through that period of my life. It’s not lost on me that my reliance on the stage side of the theatre weakened when my mental state improved. Don’t get me wrong, I still sit in an audience every chance I get. But I don’t need to BE someone else so desperately anymore. And thank you, St. Genesius (patron of Theatre), for that!

Now that’s not to say that I don’t still wear masks. There’s the “How are you/Fine” Mask of Pleasantries that everyone wears for strangers. There’s the “Competencies and Leadership Qualities” mask that I wear at work. There’s the mask that belies the worries about a sick child or an aging parent or a crumbling relationship or a financial hardship. So many masks. So many masks all around every one of us all the time. 

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be authentic. It’s not appropriate to be fully candid with everyone all the time. Discretion is the better part of valour, right? I don’t have to fling the curtain back for every person I see. That doesn’t mean all the nuanced versions of me aren’t The Genuine Me. And if I put on a mask of calm at work instead of going cuckoo-bananas because I’m over the top frustrated before I even clock in, and then my laptop goes into the 45 minute update cycle and the doggie pees on the floor and I spill my tea on my shirt 30 seconds before my meeting that could have been an email is about to start? Isn’t it better to present a more dignified face to my colleagues than the irate banshee right below the surface? There’s a difference, in my mind between those kinds of masks and one firmly rooted in a con. Or catfishing. Or gaslighting. Waaaaaay negative intentions.

So as I move into Lent, I’m going to do a good examination of conscience as it relates to masks. Sure, there are instances when I am the appropriate version of me for the role I’m fulfilling at any one time.
This Lent, may the way I act encourage others to assume positive intentions on my part, and may I know enough to put on my oxygen mask before I inflict negative intentions on my loved ones.

Extra Credit:

I’ve created landing pages for the last 3 years of Lent Project. You can access them from the Reflections Projects option in the menu bar. Happy reading, friends!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s