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No More Mask

November 5, 2013 | by Emuna Braverman

As we get older, with fewer defenses and inhibitions to provide any filters, our real selves poke through.

I heard something really frightening today. I hadn’t really given it much thought before. But now I’m really scared. Terrified, in fact.

I participated in a class where the teacher mentioned that she frequently visited old age homes when she was a child. Some of the residents were gracious and welcoming, always smiling and friendly and happy to see her. Others were crotchety, nasty and rude. (We’re not at the scary part yet…)

Without giving it much thought, I just assumed that the more unpleasant older folk were probably lonely and in pain and their behavior reflected this. And I’m sure for some that is true.

But in speaking with staff and relatives, the reality turned out to be much simpler. And much more horrifying. Their personalities reflected exactly who they had been their whole lives – with fewer defenses and inhibitions to provide any filters or masks.

If they had led lives of kindness and caring, that’s who they were. And, unfortunately, if they had led lives of bitterness and selfishness, that’s who they were as well. Their essence was on display. They simply lacked the resources and energy to cover it up.

When we’re younger we can still pretend. We can show one face to the world and another to our families, a smiling, subservient one to our boss and a haughty, arrogant one to our employees. We can cover up all the negative emotions that we are actually feeling.

But if it’s only a cover-up and not an actual change, our real selves will ultimately poke through. We won’t be able to fool everyone forever.

It’s frightening. If we don’t really change who we are – in a deeper, serious, internal way and not just a superficial one – then that person will, at some point, be all we have left.

Luckily we still have time. But we need to act. We need to uproot our negative character traits; we need to change our bad habits. And that’s all easier said than done. So we need to really get to work.

We can always grow. Well, almost always. I think some of those senior citizens alluded to earlier may find it too difficult to uproot the habits of a life time. We don’t want to take our chances. As it says in one of our favorite Dr. Seuss books, “The time has come. The time is now.”

I need to act immediately. And I pray that my old age will reflect my good intentions where my actions and character may fall short.

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