I am often complimented on my smile. Good genetics and 5 years of orthodontia contribute to make it warm.
Watching a movie entitled, Many Masks, I realized my smile was a mask that hides my true feelings much of the time. It is a learned response, trying to project the idea that “I’m fine!”
I remember walking on the sidewalk at college when a girl called out to me to say: “You’ve got a great smile.” All I could think was “Can’t she see the pain I’m in?!?” I was very depressed at the time and thought I was wearing that on my sleeve, for all to see. Perhaps in feeling so low, my mask was turned up high.
When I was 3½, I came down with Perthes hip. Shortly thereafter, a neighbor of ours invited me to see his new puppies, hoping to take my mind off my predicament, knowing my love of dogs. The mother dog was scared by the metal brace on my legs. She bit my cheek off while I was cradled in her master’s arms.
Not long afterwards, some of my parent’s friends visited our house and came into my room to see me. They looked at my legs in their brace, and at the bandage on my cheek. But they did not look me in the eye. I felt their pity. It was an awful feeling.
I learned to smile so deeply as a tool to get people to look at me, and not my infirmity. For the most part it worked. It reassured people that despite appearances to the contrary, “I’m fine!!!” It drew their eyes towards mine, away from my diseased legs. Most of the time it brought a smile to the other person, too.
I read that if you are trying to convince other people that you are sick, you cannot heal. I was cured at 7 years old, but I wasn’t healed. My body and mind carried allegorical open wounds for 40 years or more. That’s a lot of smiling to hide feelings.
The day after I realized my smile was a mask, people thought something awful must have happened, my face was so sad when compared with my broad smile from the day before. Over time, I have become more comfortable wearing my natural resting face, instead of my smiling mask. I still have a great smile, but now it comes from genuine joy, not to hide my pain.
What masks do you wear? Do you have any new ones for the aging you?