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The bell rang for recess, my heart thumping like a flat tire, my fingers twisting my uniform navy tie, my brunette braids still throbbing my temples from mother’s earlier styling. “No stray hairs,” this morning,” she always said, between puffs on her cigarette.

It was time. All week, it had sat in the corner of the classroom, a large box covered with several thicknesses of white tissue paper, with red velvet bows, cut-out hearts, and silver cupids; in the front was a slit for our Valentines. Each morning, my classmates dropped in handfuls, some appearing to have cherry lollypops. Mine were cheap store-bought ones with little adornment, addressed only to the few that I knew.

And now the cards would be distributed by Sister’s pets as we sat at our desks, our geography books still open to the lesson on South America. Up and down the rows, the gifted ones tossed all sizes of cards toward the recipients, often dislodging red-hots from their staples, splattering them over the hardwood floor. In no time, a flurry of hands scooped up each one, their red-stained tongues whooping with laughter. A bacchanal frenzy seemed to infest everyone, while I sat in the last seat of the aisle row, wincing as I was repeatedly by-passed, stewing over receiving no Valentines from those I had remembered last year. My head lowered, I studied the two cards I had received, then stuffed them in my geography book.

Another bell ended the clamor of recess as Sister restored order in the classroom. I was sorely grateful for the resumption of the lesson on Peru.

But the shame of many Valentine’s Day boxes only deepened, together with other experiences that intensified my invisibility and voicelessness in my development.

Only decades later did I learn the true source of love, present within my own heart, thanks to many humble coaches who knew such things.

Trick or treaters, masked as princesses, pirates, ghouls, inflated by assumed identities, may again canvas our neighborhoods this Halloween, their parents watching from the sidewalks. Winds will nip ankles, flit crisped leaves across lawns beneath a waning moon. The drama, the hilarity will deepen.

Perhaps you have also donned a mask for such haunts when a kid or for Mardi Gras carnivals? Perhaps experienced masked performers in a play or ritual performances of native peoples? Or worn masks for Covid protection? Or still do?

You are not alone. Peoples from cultures all over the world have donned masks for such purposes. The oldest one, made of stone, dates back to 7000 B.C., the pre-ceramic Neolithic period; it is kept in the Bible and Holy Land Museum in Paris, France.

But there is another way of considering masks.

As children growing up in troubled families, we can develop masks or defense mechanisms that later thwart significant relationships in family and at work. A gnawing emptiness results. Nothing is significant. Addictive behaviors soon follow. Some visit the consulting rooms of psychologists or other helpers and begin the painful process of owning their self-constructed masks and learning to discard them.  Perhaps for the first time in their lives, they experience their spiritual center and live from this Source. They thrive, at whatever age.

I know. I’ve been through this process. And here is the result – I keep it in my study!

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