Chaplain Lessons: We Wear the Mask

From our window, we watched people walking about in the warm night air. Warm, for a January evening. People in shirt sleeves. People eating dinner at an outdoor cafe. Surges of pedestrians walking from the Metro escalator, across the street and off to their destinations. Cars and buses. Ambulances and police cars, their urgent, strident sirens cutting through the noise.

It was time to let things take their natural course. The patient and family were at peace.

The night wore on. There were stories. Hymns. Prayers. Remembrance. Celebration. Tears. The journey from this life to the next came slowly, peacefully, gently.

One of the family members shared the patient’s favorite poem. Again, I am a student of my patients and their families…

We Wear The Mask
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

From Poetry Foundation

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