Uncovering the Masked Face 

I didn’t realize how long I had been holding my breath. 

The sun beams through the oval-shaped window of the plane. I consider if an oval is the correct shape to attribute to an aircraft window, and I reflect on my six-year-old daughter’s tears yesterday at not getting her shapes correct in online school. I fear she is falling behind…and she is only in kindergarten. I force my thoughts away from my children and to the wonderful opportunity at hand. 

I take a deep breath, but my mask reminds me that I can’t fully breathe yet. I continue connecting my Bluetooth headphones and consider what I will do now that I have boarded the plane. The act of getting on a plane feels foreign to my pandemic-trained body. Even getting away to this girls’ weekend seems somehow wrong. 

I wonder, “Why do I feel stressed about what to do on my vacation?” And the answer comes, “Because I never stop.” 

I never stop thinking, brainstorming, planning, making meals, doing housework, conversing with my children, practicing phonics, listening to my clients, researching, scheduling doctors appointments, working out, signing up for summer camps, practicing meditation, paying bills. It feels like a never-ending balance of all things. 

When it comes to slowing down and resting, it is a hard discipline to embrace. 

Instead of watching a movie or reading a book, I finally choose worship music for my plane ride. The words in my ears are welcoming, and I close my eyes and let my head fall back on the seat. Tears immediately stream down my cheeks in glorious surrender and gratitude for this moment. There is a woman in the seat next to me, and I hope my tears are invisible as they slide under my masked face. I keep my eyes closed deliberately, wanting nothing to steal from this bit of relief. 

I haven’t taken a respite weekend for fun in a long time. The pandemic stole from us in so many ways, and not being with others was a heartbreaking experience for me. A wave of anxiety comes over me as I think about seeing my friends, hugging them, and communing with them for a weekend. I am surprised by the exhaustion I feel just by the thought; however, I know I must expend this energy to engage well and return to normal life after COVID. 

It is a big deal to be separated from our loved ones, and likewise, it is a big deal to be with each other again…to emotionally unmask. After social trauma, such as a  pandemic, our brain often uses any form of control to have some stability after the chaos subsides. This global pandemic has impacted our level of control in social settings, which is particularly triggering for anxiety-prone mothers. Research has yet to see what psychological effects we will endure in our society as we return to a “normal” life post-COVID. Reuniting after a year-long quarantine will look different for everyone and might bring up many feelings; for some, it may be really difficult.

What will it look like to unmask and re-engage the world? 

Will I be able to take you in and hold onto myself at the same time? This is the labor of taking off our masks and unveiling ourselves to those from whom we have been separated. 

Uncovering our masked faces will be similar to my experience re-engaging dear friends after a year of separation. There will be moments when we don’t know if we should embrace or refrain, hold eye contact, laugh or cry, or just sit in the awe of the other. 

May we welcome this season of rejoining and the complexity of saying hello after a long time away. May we hold onto the gratitude we feel after a staggering experience of quarantine. May we uncover our masked faces and hearts. 

A Liturgy of Saying Hello After Time Apart
I take off my mask to greet you.
Our deep sighs as we pause and take the other’s eyes in.
I thank my body that traveled here through the unknown breach of time away.
Those who made it possible, who hold back ocean walls to guard this reunion.
I thank you, Holy Spirit, for the desire within me that beckons us to do life in community.
Hello to the me that arrives after a long journey.
Hello to the last time we embraced.
Hello to the you that arrived here from afar.
Hello to the mandated separation that is now subsiding.
Hello to uncovering the masked face.
I have missed you friend.
Please come and tell me what you have lived through since I last saw you.

Christy Bauman, LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She offers meaning-making and storywork consulting. She is the author and producer of three works: Theology of the Womb, A Brave Lament, and Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, adjunct professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality and theology. Christy co-director of Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma with her husband Andrew. They live in Seattle with their three kids: Wilder, Selah, and River.