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Friday, July 10, 2020
Home Features Musings by the Curious Nonconformist

Musings by the Curious Nonconformist

Maya Angelou performed her adapted version of Paul Lawrence’s poem, “We Wear the Mask.” Her rendition is named ‘The Mask’:

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.
We smile but oh my God
Our tears to thee from tortured souls arise
And we sing Oh Baby doll, now we sing…
The clay is vile beneath our feet
And long the mile
But let the world think otherwise.
We wear the mask.
When I think about myself
I almost laugh myself to death.
My life has been one great big joke!
A dance that’s walked, a song that’s spoke.
I laugh so hard HA! HA! I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.
Seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “HA! HA! HA! Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break
So…I laugh! Until my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, HA! HA! I nearly died
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
Hmm huh! I laugh uhuh huh huh…
Until I start to cry when I think about myself
And my folks and the children.
My fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank.
And they gnarled like broken candles,
All waxed and burned profound.
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.
There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block
The chains and slavery’s coffles
The whip and lash and stock.
My fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.
They laugh to conceal their crying,
They shuffle through their dreams
They stepped ’n fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.
I understand their meaning,
It could and did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

The central character, a Black woman, laughs every chance she gets, even at the mundane, as a simple tactic of survival. In the year of the pandemic and of clear vision —2020, our relationship with masks is indeed a survival tactic for, not ourselves, but those around us. My survival tactic at this mid-2020 is grieving. A more time-consuming methodology, I admit, but I’ve committed myself to feeling my feelings. It is why I railed at my able co-host of WUB last Monday on his comment about people being “in their feelings.”
I think emotions are the things that make us human and feeling them keeps us human. This modality of not feeling is the disease that has us dying as a people. Our  leaders don’t seem to care; in fact, I think they have washed their hands of us — with all the evidence we’ll ever need of that found in the series of press conferences. A series that I think is worthy of a spot on Netflix, the central theme being sociopathy. I may write one someday loaded with satire, because my people like to laugh.

In this series of Being Belizean, COVID-19 no longer scares me. This coming from someone who has had serious bouts with pneumonia, and if you know anything about that disease, you know how painful and terrifying it is to not be able to breathe. Allow me to share with you the unbridled truth here, raw as a shot of bitters from my favourite ‘hole in the wall’ bar. I can’t breathe, and I feel like there’s always a noose around my neck, some days tighter than others. I know for a fact, that I’m not the only one wearing that mask. These days I see everyone wearing one, and I see that we are seeking solace in the good old Belizean survival mechanism: “Tek bad Ting, Mek Laugh.”

This is a frank reflection I wrote on a bus ride back from Western Belize.
Stay Curious.

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