The Masks We Wear

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Willbb234 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D
When I was in junior high, I remember The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was assigned reading. It made no impression on me. I was familiar with the cartoon adaptations and narrowly interpreted the tale by that silly standard. It didn’t help that Stevenson kept Hyde’s experiences vague, which for the inexperienced reader gave no indication of the true brutality of Hyde’s actions. The look in his eyes, the fear in the eyes of those who chanced to come upon him surrounded him more with mysticism rather than sketching out a real person. He took on the child’s impression of a mythical monster instead of a corrupt human being. As a young teen, I might have judged Stevenson’s attempts in creating Hyde as rather poor. As an adult, I can read the reality right into the script. Descriptions, actions, speeches don’t need further explanation for me to gauge the type of life Hyde was creating for himself. Stevenson was writing about one of man’s worst fears—the consequences of developing an addiction to self that exchanges love for fellow man with a desire to control them covertly. Dr. Jekyll knew what the end would be. That extreme self-love, the disorder known as narcissism, subdivides a person into two very different entities.

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by George Hoden

When the reader meets Dr. Jekyll, he is a nonentity, hiding and unsocial. He wants no attention and seeks no help. He has given up. He’s a tattered mask awaiting the moment Hyde will rip him away and toss him aside, never to be worn again. And he is looking forward to this death with relief.

The promises of Hyde are very appealing to Jekyll at first, but they are empty promises because the pleasure that comes from Hyde’s sprees are short and never enough. They grow emptier as Hyde grows hungrier and more desperate. Hyde is the captor who doesn’t realize he will ultimately capture himself. Hyde has no ability to stop himself; he merely uses Jekyll as his security, believing he can stop whenever he wants.

Stevenson created a character that seemed wildly absurd at the beginning, but by the end he brings the truth home. We stare at the masks every day, sometimes others’ and sometimes our own. The question is: who will win? Jekyll or Hyde?

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Only the Bell to Tell on Me

I’ve been seeing a counselor for a year and a half-ish. I’ve talked to her about my childhood and my adulthood, and I’ve been heartened by what she’s shown to me. My habits, my thoughts, my beliefs about myself all relate in some way to experiences—both positive and negative. One of the best pieces of advice she’s given me is: Childhood is a time when you have no power over what happens to you, and that is scary. Unfortunately, you come into adulthood “programmed” with the same fears you had as a child. But as an adult, you don’t have any reason to fear what you feared as a child. You are in control now. You get to make your own decisions.

This idea reminds me of what Paul tells the Galatians about how the Old Law of Judaism was an elementary authority in the life of the world that prepared the world for Christ’s New Covenant. He gives them an analogy of how the Old Law was like a child that will one day inherit his father’s wealth. “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father” (Galatians 4:1-2ESV). Regardless of social status, all children are placed under a person, or persons, in authority. Which means a child’s development is closely linked to the emotional development and maturity of their primary instructors, be it parents, teachers, ministers, etc. As a parent, I can vouch for the fact that I have messed up my kids in ways I don’t perceive just because I’m flawed and deal with my own emotional hang-ups. No adult has a perfectly developed emotional maturity.

Yet, with my counselor’s help, I’ve been pinpointing behaviors that the child in me is still expressing. This has given me a chance to step back and take note when I’m feeling fear—fear that has no cause, fear that is a relic of the past. Because of this, I’ve been experiencing some freeing moments and building some new emotional habits. My kids are learning that Mom’s working on herself, and that working on yourself and changing your mistakes and habits is part of growing up. That’s right, kids; adults grow up too.

Yesterday, I walked into the waiting room, as usual. I rang the bell for Dr. L’s office (she’s my counselor) and plunked down on a chair. I thought about my visit with good feelings, instead of the sense of dread I’d had before that I’d find something ugly in me I didn’t want to find. Or maybe I wouldn’t be able to communicate exactly what was wrong, and it would be a wasted visit. It isn’t ever wasted, though. As long as I’m talking—and I can talk—it’s going to work out. Maybe not this session, but it will work out. Making progress that I can see and act on gives me this sense of gratitude and affection for my counselor that I never expected to feel. (Truly, I was a clam at first. I wanted to know her family and educational background and her beliefs before I ever wanted to entrust her with me.) So, I like her. I’m not afraid to be myself around her.

All that changed when someone entered the waiting room and also rang the bell for Dr. L. He sat opposite me, and I scrutinized him. (Clandestinely, of course.) Was he running an errand for the doctor? He didn’t have anything in his hands but a phone. Maybe… A stream of cold ice shot through my chest. I looked at my phone calendar, which conformed that I did not have an appointment with Dr. L. I’d moved my appointment out to be sure I was fully recovered from my surgery. (Yay, I’m recovered!)

I jumped out of my seat like the building was burning. I slipped out the door only to realize I’d left my bottle of water in the waiting room. I opened the office door again, contemplated grabbing my water, and decided I couldn’t risk it. Her bell had been rung twice; she’d be in the waiting room any minute, thinking someone was impatient to see her. She’d see me there, and she’d know I’d made a mistake. And then it would be awkward. I pulled the door closed and raced for the elevator.

She’ll never know.
She’ll never know.

Inside the elevator, I stared at the display, willing the lift to move faster. I walked the sidewalk, crossed the street to the parking garage, and pretended. The whole time I pretended I’d only been there to drop something off. Because I was not supposed to be there! When I got in the car, I breathed a sigh of relief and laughed at myself. I’d formed a new habit alright. I was used to visiting Dr. L! As much as I like her and as comfortable as I feel telling her my insecurities, she is not going to know I accidentally came to a nonexistent appointment! The only evidence? That second ring of the bell.