© Cindy Bruhn 2004
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
July 18, 2004

This service may at times make some of us uncomfortable, and some of it makes me uncomfortable sometimes too, but that's ok. I know I can remove my mask and thereby open my closet. Here with a group of people with open minds and hearts, I feel safe. The idea behind this service is an uncomfortable subject: hiding our true selves or our secrets from the world.

Why would anyone in this day and age be hiding their true selves in the closet or hiding behind a mask? We use our masks and closets because at times it is not socially acceptable to show our true feelings or beliefs. We hide our feelings and beliefs behind our mask, putting them in our closet. As Unitarians Universalist, we ask ourselves to be accepting of others' ideas and ways of life (provided they are not hurting themselves or others) to protect the Earth, to help others follow their truth without passing judgments on their beliefs. We allow ourselves to agree to disagree.

Unfortunately not all the world shares our views. Some people don't want their secrets made public. Almost every day we hear in the news about how secreted information has hurt someone or a group of people. The world isn't an open book. This service isn't about them. It is about us, and our secrets that we keep hidden in our closets, behind our masks. This service is but a window into my closet and a glimpse behind my mask. Maybe then you'll better understand the reasons others use their masks. Many of us are still hiding skeletons in our closets or hiding behind our masks, things that we don't want to show the world.

Almost three years ago my Mother passed to the Summerland. I am Pagan. I believe that when someone passes away, they go to a place called the Summerland. There they either wait for their rebirth or they are transformed to become truly part of the universe or a helping spirit. With us there is not a Hell to send those who need punishing.

I sat with my mother for the last week of her life. She felt that she needed to air out her closet, to remove her mask, before her passing. She gave me her most painful secrets. Some of them I had suspected but only now knew her truth. Now, I know which of my brothers has a different father. We talked about her will and her wishes for her remains. We talked about the secrets she held over each of my siblings to keep them in line. Things they had done in the past or were now involved with, like drugs and items that they had stolen from her. She had hoped that I would understand why she had kept these secrets hidden and would forgive her for not telling me sooner. I know that some of her secrets were kept so as to not hurt someone. Some were kept because she was ashamed.

I forgave her and told her I would try to understand and to use these secrets as she wanted. I hope that I don't put my daughter though the same revelation when I depart. Because of my mother opening her closet and removing her mask, I understood that so many of us are still in our closets and hiding behind our masks. We as humans have masks or faces that we show the outside world. I bet all of you who are parents have a mad face you use when your child has misbehaved. We as parents use this face even when we are secretly proud of what our child has done. I have told many of you about the time one of my children did something that was very smart but wrong. Stealing the Chocolate chip cookies I was baking and eating their ill-gotten gain in the closet (Both of my children did this in their own fashion, my son gathering up the towel the cookies were cooling on and my daughter taking the cookie jar). While being proud of their ability to form and carry out their planned heist at such a young age about 2-1/2, I had to show them the mad mask because they had done something wrong. I hid behind my mad mask and secreted my pride into the closet. As parents we hide our fears for our children in our closets and put on our masks when disappointed.

I hid behind one mask for many years: I was suffering with depression. I felt that I could not show my true feelings because I believed that my family needed me to be strong and supportive of their problems and needs. My feelings and problems were hidden behind my mask, tucked into my closet. I used the mask hide my pain, misplaced guilt, my thoughts of killing myself, my feelings of inferiority - they were all well-masked, hidden in my closet. My pain and anguish were stored in my closet for many years, until one day my children's doctor saw my mask and understood it was but a cover for something that was very wrong. My family and all that close to me never saw my true face. Medication and therapy helped me to open my closet and let out my pain, to show my true face. I came to realize that there was more in my closet that I had to face, more masks to be destroyed. By facing these skeletons and understanding them, I was setting myself free of their evil hold.

One of the skeletons was that of abuse. I was physically and emotionally abused as a child. While I loved my parents very much, and I know that they loved me, there was a time when they were so angry with each other that it exploded onto my siblings and me in the form of physical, verbal and emotional abuse. The mean words hurt more than being hit. They don't even remember that they were hurting us; they only saw their pain. I did not understand. I thought I had done something wrong. I held that pain for so many years in my closet. After I found it hiding, I let it free and in doing so, forgave my parents.

For years I wore a mask of the understanding, suffering wife while hiding the face of an abused spouse. That mask nearly cost me my life. My ex-husband used the mask of confidence and charisma to hide the face of violence, anger, self-loathing, doubt, alcoholism, and mental illness. I did not understand that while I loved my husband, he did not like himself. He was a very angry person. He would blame anyone for any mistakes that would pop up. In his mind, I was to blame for his philandering, his lack of success. I was his personal whipping post. While some people knew of his extra curricular activities, none knew the extent of the abuse. He abused me physically, mentally, verbally, emotionally, and spiritually.

One time, he was very drunk after a night out and demanded to drive us home. After a loud and violent argument I just let him drive without any further discussion. While driving, he veered so far to the left he hit a tree planted in the median strip. Luckily for me I was not hurt due to the accident, but he continued his verbal and physical assault on me because it was my fault that we crashed. All of his abuse of me was well hidden in my little closet.

I know that on some level he may have loved me at sometime, but when we parted I knew he really had lost that love or had buried it deep within his closet, so far away I would never be able to reach it. I knew that if I had stayed in that relationship that in all probability I would be dead now. I still have some of that pain in my closet. Though most of it is gone. I know that it will be a long time before I have let go of all the pain.

I had to learn to love and accept myself for who I am. This was a hard path to follow, but I am on the right path. I had open my closet and set free those skeletons, to burn those masks hiding my doubts and fears so they can't control me anymore. I still have a few I am dealing with but their numbers are dwindling.

How many of us closet our selves behind our masks? We have one for when we are proud. One is for anger. Ones we use at work or in public. How many of us are really ready to show our true faces to the whole world? We use our masks as the door of our closets when we are outside our homes.

I have to keep my religious beliefs in a closet and use a mask to hide my beliefs. Only a select few know that I am Pagan. This is because some of the people I know are Evangelical Christians. I have to control myself, when they ask me "Have you found Jesus?" Deep inside I want to ask them, "What, you lost him again? Maybe you should find a deity that won't keep running away?" I am happy to know there are many other Christians that are more accepting of other's beliefs. So I use my closet to hold my feelings, a mask to hide my true face. That way, those who would not be accepting won't feel uncomfortable.

I have a mask I must use when my son is around; this is because I can't reveal my true feelings about his choices. As some of you know my son has a serious psychiatric disorder. He is bi-polar with paranoid delusional schizophrenia. He has a real problem with reality. I have to hide how I really feel in a closet, behind my mask. I am hiding that I am really afraid that someday he will hurt himself so badly as to place himself in the hospital for the rest of his life, or that he will take his own life. I often dread answering the phone, thinking it may be that call all mothers fear. I am dealing with this fear with the help of my friends and extended family. Sometimes it is very hard. I am not being brave. I am frightened, but I am sharing this fear because when adversity is shared, the load is lightened.

Almost everyone has something that they want to be kept hidden from others. What I am trying to do is to show you that we should not be afraid to show others our private pain. By opening our closets and taking off our masks, we allow others to see our true selves. Sometimes we need to take the risk to open the book of our lives. I know that it is hard to allow our hidden sides out in the open. You can only share your deepest secrets with someone you feel comfortable with.

Being a member of this Mission Peak congregation to me is very important. This is the type of welcoming community that has been, is now, and is still becoming even more supportive of those of us who are opening ourselves, revealing our faces, airing our closets. Here we can take the risk to drop our masks and open our closets. Maybe we should be more open to those around us and be willing to take a chance take off the mask, open that closet not only to reveal our fears but also our hopes. You could find someone with whom you can share you fears and hopes, someone who understands, and then you'll be truly free.

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