A continuation of “The Man Behind The Mask“
Best understood after reading the above piece.
“He stares at the ground he stands on for a moment contemplating his choice, lifts his head and , gripping the handrails of the swaying bridge tightly, closes his eyes and takes that first step across the canyon still unsure of what awaits on the other side.”
After a few steps he finally opens his eyes, still gripping the handropes in the vice of fear, tightly enough to form diamonds from lumps of coal, it seems. His chest tightens as he finally gathers up the nerve to look down, and down, and down until there is no more down, there is only fog where he hoped he might spy the deepest part of the canyon.. As he continues to walk he is enveloped by the ever expanding fog until he can neither see forward, back, up nor down.
A nagging uncertainty wraps itself around him as would a giant boa constrictor, slowly squeezing until he can barely breathe. What has he done? The bridge is swaying from the strong winds and his uncertain footsteps. He knows not whether he would have been safer staying in the place he was or if the risk of this traversal is worth what might await him farther through the fog. All he knows for sure is that he doesn’t want to be flung headfirst into that canyon of despair to live the rest of his days in foggy darkness with no hope of escaping the bitter loneliness.
He knows not how far he has traveled, whether the relative safety of what’s behind is closer or the unknown possibilities ahead. As he is stopping to ponder his choices he falls to his knees and wails to whatever God might listen “What am I to do? Oh please give me a sign!”.
As he kneels there, he hears only the whistling of the wind, sees only the blinding white of the fog that surrounds him as a cotton boll envelops its seed. For an eternity he waits for his sign and receives none. No thundering voice from above nor whisper from within his head. No light from ahead or behind. Conflicted between the choices and empty for lack of guidance, he thinks back to what made him take those first steps. Faith. Faith that ahead is the possibility of something he could never have where he was. Peace.
With renewed strength, he climbs back to his feet and sets off again to the unknown land of his future. With each step, the wind lessens slightly, the fog thins almost imperceptively, the sky grows brighter and he feels the burdens he has been carrying grow lighter.
After quite a long walk and much time to mull over his choices and actions, he notices that he can almost make out the end of the bridge and the land beyond. He hastens his step in order to arrive as soon as he possibly can. He literally bounds ahead with the last few steps to the solid earth.
As he looks around he is disheartened to see that this place is no better than that from which he came. He can see heartbreaks in hiding just waiting for him. He can see lovers doing what lovers do on a bright Spring Day. What he doesn’t see is the love he has so yearned for.
As the denizens of this new land begin to notice him, they flock to him to say their welcomes, shake his hand or hug him. For a time he is lighter than air in their midst, yet this is not to last. Eventually, they all go back to living their lives and he is left where he was to begin with. Alone.
He consigns himself to a life without the love of that one that he seeks so desperately. In this resignation he comes to the conclusion that there is no gain from the wearing of the mask and he might as well remove it. Taking care to remove it gently to avoid it’s destruction should he have a change of mind, he reaches into his pocket for the small mirror that is his constant companion, his only method of assuring that the mask has not gone askew and revealed his despondent visage. He, with great trepidation, slowly raises the mirror to his face.
What he sees nearly causes him to drop both mirror and mask, it makes him tremble so. He looks at the mask, with it’s smile and bright eyes, then back to the mirror to look at his face. He cannot, for the life of him, understand the similarities between the two.
What magic is this, he wonders. How has this happened. Certainly not while crossing the bridge with such trepidation. Certainly not standing here alone. The only thing left to consider is the greeting he received when he arrived. But how can that change the fact that he is standing alone, once again, to face yet another land full of traps and pitfalls just waiting to take away those glistening eyes and that wide smile.
Finally, he realizes what his new neighbors have left behind that he has been blind to for so long. They left him their love. A love that not only is potent while the person is present, but is vastly more potent when they are absent. The love of his new friends, whether near or far has filled his heart to the brim and beyond and he is acutely aware that as long as he holds that love close, no one can ever take his happiness away, that he is the keeper of his own good spirits.
Afterword : As you may have already surmised, both “The Man Behind The Mask” and “Crossing the Bridge” are inspired by the authors own experiences. In the midst of one of the worst times of my life, I found that special love that only a true friend can give. Each new friend that I make adds to that and those that I’ve lost touch with are still in my heart. I thank God for each and every one of them for extending to me a life line to sanity and happiness that I was so desperately in need of and I thank God for giving me the strength and the faith to look for the good and attempt to extend the same love to everyone I come in contact with (either virtually or in that strange thing called real life)
I envy Kevin. My brother, Kevin, thinks God lives under his bed. At least that’s what I heard him say one night.
He was praying out loud in his dark bedroom, and I stopped to listen, ‘Are you there, God?’ he said. ‘Where are you? Oh, I see. Under the bed….’
I giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room. Kevin’s unique perspectives are often a source of amusement. But that night something else lingered long after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world Kevin lives in.
He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties during labor. Apart from his size (he’s 6-foot-2), there are few ways in which he is an adult.
He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed, that Santa Clause is the one who fills the space under our tree every Christmas and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them.
I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever dissatisfied with his monotonous life?
Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later to bed.
The only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child.
He does not seem dissatisfied.
He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work.
He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for his next day’s laundry chores.
And Saturdays – oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That’s the day my Dad takes Kevin to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate loudly on the destination of each passenger inside. ‘That one’s goin’ to Chi-car-go! ‘ Kevin shouts as he claps his hands.
His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.
And so goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips.
He doesn’t know what it means to be discontent.
His life is simple.
He will never know the entanglements of wealth of power, and he does not care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be.
His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he is working. When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in it.
He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job until it is finished. But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax.
He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others. His heart is pure.
He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue.
Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent, always sincere. And he trusts God.
Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, he comes as a child. Kevin seems to know God – to really be friends with Him in a way that is difficult for an ‘educated’ person to grasp. God seems like his closest companion.
In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity, I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith.
It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge that rises above my mortal questions.It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap. I am. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances – they all become disabilities when I do not trust them to God’s care.
Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he has spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of God.
And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I’ll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed.
Kevin won’t be surprised at all!