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Masked Bawl

“I feel your pain,” he said, brown eyes glittering with just a hint of tears. “But you’ll feel joy again.”

His sincerity stunned me, this handsome, younger cowboy-type. Gulping back my own tide of tears, I recited from Kahlil Gibran,

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding . . . It’s something like that, huh?”

His reaction told me The Prophet was Greek to him, but we embraced.

“I love you he said,” without a hint of sexuality.

“Do you know what those words, ‘I feel your pain,’ mean to me?” I was sobbing now. “That’s all a person needs to hear. I don’t need advice. I just need to know someone heard me. That I’m not completely alone.”

I had raced to a support group meeting because I had awoken feeling like my depression would swallow me up. I had a laundry list of things to do to promote my new book and start a new career, but I was paralyzed the day long. I kept chewing over fears that I won’t make enough money to support myself while doing what I love. That I’ll end up pushing a K-Mart cart around the streets and sleeping beneath the freeway overpass.

(Did you know even wealthy people have these fears?) At any rate, the depression had been creeping up for a week or so. I knew it when I became morosely fascinated by a particular photograph in my diary. It features a blue glacier ice cave with a frigid waterfall, somewhere in Antarctica. I kept picturing myself in that place – absolutely beyond alone, beyond space, a cold death – so inviting . . .
On my way home from the meeting, I was bawling so hard I had to pull over to the side of the road beside the ocean. “God, Goddess, She, He, It or They,” I prayed, “Please remove my mean thoughts about others and, especially, me.”

You see, mere minutes before the cowboy had indebted me to him eternally, I had been feeling critical of his poor reading skills; impatient with something he was reading to the group. He reminded me of a little boy, Billy, who used to drive me up the wall in the fifth grade reading class that I taught 30 years ago.

Pain – both mental and physical – can make you mean.

But, unless you’re reading this, or you are a very close friend, or you belong to the same support group I do, you’ll never know I’m suffering behind the toothy grin I’ve perfected. I never miss a deadline, and I can schmooze with dignitaries and look as balanced as a professional surfer making a perfect tube run.

And I’ll never let myself go, get fat, not comb my hair or apply make-up. Oh, no, they’ll have to take me out feet first.

Now, if you can relate to this emotional reading, you are either (a) an artist (b) clinically depressed (c) a normal person who is not in denial and has compassion.

If you cannot relate to this you are, well, on a river in Egypt or an eternal optimist. And heaven knows we Type As need them. A couple of them are my best friends.

However, a heck of a lot of people who look finger lickin’ good on the outside are really bawling on the inside.

Not all the time - God forbid! But maybe more often than you think.

For instance, I just re-interviewed Evgeny and Lydia Baranov (see my “Quotable Notable” archives for the original interview). Since spring, they have been painting up a storm following a deeply inspirational visit to Carnival in Venice, Italy.
This couple is, possibly, the only one in the world that paints simultaneously on the same canvas. Togetherness is their creed. And their sumptuous renderings of 17th century couples, in swishy satin, feathered hats and divine masks, were just blowing the circuits of my brain.

The prismatic paintings were perched on easels in their living room-turned-artist studio. A benediction of light poured over them from the windows beyond.

But – beware! - in life there is always balance. And the Baranovs spoke openly of their depressive side; of days when they felt their works were for naught, even though they hang in the homes of VIPS and galleries internationally.
Not convinced, yet, that we all wear masks regardless of our station in life?

OK, I know a billionaire whose press reads like that of a president or sultan or Hollywood Super Star. Guess what this person just told me? This person who signs autographs by the tens of thousands and gives motivational speeches to NASDAQ kings and queens?

“Do you ever feel fear of rejection? I do about almost everything all the time,” they said.

What did I reply?

“Well, hell, yes. I’m afraid of rejection, fear and just about everything in between. But I keep plugging away. On the days I have high self-esteem I try to get tons done because I don’t know when I’ll feel like a penny waiting for change again.”
I’m on a rant, I know it. But what would this world look like if people peeked out from behind their masks a little more often? Think of the energy that would be released that we spend faking it.
We’d all cry more, but we’d laugh more too.

I’m back to Gibran, and his missive on Joy and Sorrow: . . . “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked . . . The deeper the sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain . . .”

Stardust Inspiration: n this New Year, why not have the love to see beyond another’s mask, and the courage to drop your own, from time to time . . .

CORRECTION: In my last column, “The Fortune Cookie,” I said the organization I spoke for was Seniors In Retirement. Wrong! It is Sons In Retirement. Sorry, just another Mental Pause . . .



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