At a time when our overwhelming focus is on wearing physical masks to reduce the spread of the corona virus, it’s easy to forget that internalising our emotions is another type of ‘mask wearing’ with consequences which might be fatal.
There are some people whose circumstances are such that when they self-destruct we find ourselves overcome with empathy. The thought might run – “at least they are now out of pain” or “or at least they had a good life” but in the case of others such as Speed, we remained lost for words by the seeming senselessness of such a terminal act. The suicide of Wales football manager Gary Speed MBE, stunned his circle of friends and acquaintances, and indeed the wider world. Suicide is a term fraught with innate contradictions. This man seemed to have so much to live for– glittering career, wife, children. Hours before he took his life by hanging he had been interviewed for TV and appeared jolly and in good spirits.
What could have happened in the interim period which so filled him with hopelessness, that he decided in favour of such a course of action? The greater likelihood is that he had planned it all along. The truth may yet unravel, but this tragedy points to a tragedy common to all humanity – the fact that we wear masks. Indeed, in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, “the heart is deceitful above all things… Who can know it?” [Jeremiah 17:9]
It doesn’t matter how popular we are, how many friends we have, how big the crowd; we are all essentially individuals who live in our own private worlds. According to John Milton in Paradise Lost I, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven out of hell, a hell of heaven.” Only we decide who will gain access, whether anyone at all. Only God has access – “man looks at the outward appearance but man looks at the heart.”[1 Samuel 16:7]
When I think of the journeys I have travelled in my mind, through harrowingly winding roads, and pleasurable explorations, all without moving from a given physical location or posture, I marvel that no-one else has been privy to my journey. Is that not why we find the painting of the Mona Lisa so fascinating – her mysterious expression suggests there is a lot more brewing underneath the surface, about which we can only speculate.
We remain so fearful of sharing our own thoughts; experience may have taught us that they will only be dismissed or belittled. Yet, we were made for sharing. All need to know that when there seems no one else worthy of our secrets, God knows. We need to know that with Him we can freely share all things. This sharing is for our benefit more than his since He already knows everything about us.
So much of artistic expression – painting, literature, drama – stems from the need to give expression to something which, if left inside, will only destroy us. Isaiah spoke of the fire in his bones when he determined not to speak.
For all too many, sharing does not come easily. We may have been raised in a household where “the stiff upper lip” was prized above all else. Invariably, such people are drawn to friends and life partners/spouses who embody the exact opposite – the loud and gregarious. But even the so-called extroverts wear masks, often to hid their sadness or depression. We wear masks when we presume that our authentic emotions or opinions will not be valued and once voiced, we ourselves will be rejected. The perfect, seemingly well-adjusted ‘A’ student who has just matriculated into an Ivy League university, may kill herself because she feels she is only living to fulfil the expectations of others. She may be afraid to voice the fact that she no longer wants to go to university and become ‘the professional’ she is expected to become; she may long to divert from the well-chosen plan of life set out for her, yet fear disappointing those she loves or who love her the most. Unable to reconcile the conflict within her, she decides that killing herself is the only option. She fails to recognise that this will be the ultimate disappointment to her loved ones, and from which there is no recovery. such was the case of Alice McGovern who, despite her gifted intellect, wrote in her suicide note, “life is simply not for me.”
What so many suicidal people fail to realise is that the world is desperately in need of the authentic; it is saturated with fakes and copycats. We do the world and ourselves a disservice by being a phoney. We could all do with a fresh resolve to ‘just be ourselves’, without injury or belittlement to others, but in celebration of the people we truly are rather than how others see us or want us to be.