A few weekends ago, I broke a tooth. While totally inconsequential to this story, for the life of me, I can’t remember how I broke it. This detail does fit into a larger theme that I will explore when I’m like 95% emotionally stable (so never). Anyway, I broke a tooth. I called the after-hours dentist people who said the office would work me in Monday morning before the regular hours. By the way, Monday was Halloween.
So I wander somewhat anxiously into the dentist office because I get weirded out when they put their hands in my mouth. By now, you should all really understand the depth of quirky I possess. I immediately discover the entire dental staff are all in full costume. Next item in the quirky inventory….I don’t costumes….seriously don’t enjoy the internal distress I experience when not knowing what humans with their many revealing nonverbals are actually underneath the masks and such.
As my awkward skyrockets, the kittycat leads me back to the “chair”. On our way, we actually pass this massively tall figure dressed as death. He is roaming the halls with his “devil stick”, as my wife calls it. And I knew, I mean I felt deeply with conviction, death was my dentist. I take my place in the chair of vulnerability and wait for death. And, of course, he comes. Dr. Death introduces himself. I’m sure he was actually pleasant and kind, but I don’t remember what he said because I’m freaking out about his death eyes. He had a mask, see above for my feelings about masks, that was somehow paper mached to his face and had two dark little eye holes drilled in. I was melting down into a complete dissociative state when something truly awesome occurred.
You see, I think I was Dr. Death’s first patient of the day and, as such, he had not yet tried to sit on his little dentist stool in his long death dress. He is hiking up his dress and trying to position his eye holes for a safe landing and I cracked a smile that dental assistant kittycat saw. She winked and smiled and all the scary disappeared in a moment.
If we are all honest, we are all scared about something. Most adult humans are probably more existential and/or pragmatic in their fears while I choose to fixate on mouth touching and creepy masks. Nonetheless, we all got fears. And we all wear masks. I think our masks are likely quite related to our fears. We want to believe we can control what we project and so our beautifully-protective brains develop a sequence of metaphorical masks that we wear when certain situations arise. Sometimes, we wear the masks for so long that we no longer remember they are masks, but then small moments happen…moments when someone shows up who sees what we see and creates safety in shared emotion like the kittycat did with me. Truthfully, I am beyond blessed with people in my life who are capable of creating safety with me and I hope to do the same for others. For it to fully permeate, though, we have to let down our masks.
Reflections on lessons learned from being a therapist and adoptive dad.