I was about sixteen when I met a man who gave me a copy of the poem below.
I met him one afternoon on the beach where I was hanging out. We became fast friends after I recognized him as a kindred spirit. He said he is a writer and a poet. I’ve always been drawn to artistic people. Their view of the world comes with a unique point of view.
We spent many hours discussing books and poetry and writing.
One day he gave me the poem. He said that it was one of his favorite.
I was too young to understand or fully conceptualize the meaning of the words, yet it resonated with me. And throughout time, from my transition into adulthood, and my travels around the world, the poem has been with me.
I think about him over the years and have even tried finding him.
I came across the poem recently while going through some of my things. The piece of paper on which it is typed, once crisp and white, has grown brown and brittle and pieces of it is missing. I had a déjà vu moment and went frantically in search of the poem that at the time when it was given to me, the author was unknown.
I’m sure that it means different things to different people.
I am thankful that I have never learned to pack away my emotions and put on a new face. My flaws are important extensions of ME and nothing to be ashamed of or hide.
One question that employers like to ask in an interview is: What do you consider your weaknesses? Many think it’s a good idea to answer that they have no weaknesses. My answer has always been that I have plenty. But seek to recognize them so that I can work on improving myself.
Life will take bites out of me.
Experiences will mark me.
Pain will break me.
Laughter will heal me.
I will say and do things that are not good for me.
Consequences will teach me.
I am human.
I feel compelled to share this poem.
Please Hear What I'm Not Saying
by Charles C. Finn
Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear
for I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
masks that I'm afraid to take off,
and none of them is me.
Pretending is an art that's second nature with me,
but don't be fooled,
for God's sake don't be fooled.
I give you the impression that I'm secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water's calm and I'm in command
and that I need no one,
but don't believe me.
My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,
ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.
But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope,
and I know it.
That is, if it's followed by acceptance,
if it's followed by love.
It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself,
from my own self-built prison walls,
from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.
It's the only thing that will assure me
of what I can't assure myself,
that I'm really worth something.
But I don't tell you this. I don't dare to, I'm afraid to.
I'm afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,
will not be followed by love.
I'm afraid you'll think less of me,
that you'll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.
So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,
with a facade of assurance without
and a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that's really nothing,
and nothing of what's everything,
of what's crying within me.
So when I'm going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I'm saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I'm not saying,
what I'd like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can't say.
I don't like hiding.
I don't like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you've got to help me.
You've got to hold out your hand
even when that's the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes
the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you're kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings--
very small wings,
very feeble wings,
With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be a creator--an honest-to-God creator--
of the person that is me
if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.
Please choose to.
Do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach to me
the blinder I may strike back.
It's irrational, but despite what the books say about man
often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.
Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.