Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Faces in the Crowd

What was your face before you were born?
- Zen koan

Every person holds many faces.

We wake up every morning and put on a face. We say hello to our families and friends, and show them a different face. We put on brave and reasonable fronts for our teachers, clients and superiors, and we show them yet another, even more different face. We walk by complete strangers in the middle of the street, and we make sure they see another totally different face. And when we finally go to bed late in the evening with the stars as our only witnesses, we take off the masks we wear all day to reveal a final face underneath the layers of pale skin.

These faces can change by the second. If we become happy, they tend to curl upwards in a sort of sheepish smile. If we become angry, they crease and wrinkle with the kinetic movement of emotion beneath the surface. They wither and soften in the throes of human sadness, and they stretch far and thin with the prospect of naked fear.

But they also change with age: They get heavier, dirtier, more burdened with the weight of years. The eyes and the voices beneath them almost never change, but the faces we own right now are quite different from the faces we wore when we were children. Those faces, for their part, will be long forgotten twenty years from now, when we regard ourselves in the mirror once again.

We place such a strange premium on these faces. Sometimes we're paid to put them on and parade them in front of people, stage or no stage. Sometimes we refuse to emerge from our solitary lives without finding the right face for the occasion. And sometimes we find ourselves slighted or persecuted, merely for wearing faces of our own personal choice.

Underneath, we're all afraid. We're afraid that everyone around us will see us for what we are, all skin and muscle and blood and bone. We know that truth holds little when placed against perception, and that perception will always win. And that is why we have such a collection of faces on our mantelpiece, all waiting for us to put them on.

What pitiful people we all are, to hide behind such facades of white lead and black eyeliner.

We have hidden behind such faces for so long that we no longer know the people underneath. We know nothing of soul or spirit anymore; Such things have been lost to the mysteries simply because they did not register on a human mask. We know only the basest of emotions now, and we're forced to guess at what lies beneath through all the empathic tricks in our arsenal.

If only we could sit at the table one day with a sharp knife in hand and carve all these faces off, one by one. But we cannot, because we are afraid of drawing blood and exposing muscle to the world. We are afraid that others will judge us for who we are, instead of the beautiful faces that we constantly show them.

Every person holds many faces, yes. If we are not careful, then eventually we shall become mere faces ourselves, with no evidence of the person that lies within.

And when that happens, only a solitary existence shall remain for us, punctuated every so often by the rolling, shifting appearances that hide what can no longer be drawn out.

6 comments:

kat said...

Every person holds many faces, yes. If we are not careful, then eventually we shall become mere faces ourselves, with no evidence of the person that lies within.

Ouch.

I should remember that.

Sean said...

Kat: It's a frustrating experience, trying to break through to a person's true self, only to realize that there's nothing left under the veneer of outward appearance.

naughty girl said...

how do you peel off the masks at the risk of exposing your inner self (if there is any left)?

Sean said...

Naughty Girl: With great difficulty.

Seriously, though, I'm wondering that myself. Is it possible to reveal one's inner self without having other people see it as a facade?

skinnyblackcladdink said...

this is the tragedy of the human condition (or, at least, one of many such tragedies): that all we have and all we are is a set of masks.

Sean said...

Skinnyblackcladdink: Sad stuff. It would have made for a good story sometime...