Watch it float away
Pile up the timber
Make it bright as day
Winter is gone, spring is here
Come to claim another year
For those who live for skies so clear
This weather draws a joyful cheer
Catch the snow before it falls
Keep an ember for your pocket
Heed the spring when it calls
Take a picture for your locket
Light up the night, chase the light
Put away winter's fright
Keep out the dark, run in the park
Search for the faces for a spark
Meet your match, face your foe
There is only one way to know
Who is wrong, who is is right
All is clear in the fire's light
On Sunday morning I was driving the final stretch to church. I was running a few minutes later than I had hoped. As I impatiently followed behind three other vehicles ascending a hill my mind skipped ahead to the stoplight which would soon come into view. My eyes flicked to the clock on my dashboard as I estimated how long it would take to wait at the light and what time I would get to church. Someone on the sidewalk to my right caught my attention. At first I thought he was waving to the cars and then I realized something really odd was happening. This person was riding their bike down the hill wearing a mask, helmet and sunglasses and adamantly waving his middle finger at all of the drivers in sight.
I think my jaw might have dropped and I’m sure my eyes were incredulous. It only took a few seconds for the shock to turn to rage. Had I wanted to I would have time to swerve from the line of traffic and make a beeline for the sidewalk. I would have surely sacrificed my front tires but I could have scared the crap out of the bird-flipping cyclist. There were was only one problem: I had nothing to hide behind. Everyone would have seen what I did. Someone would have gotten a partial plate number and I could imagine the police tapping my shoulder during Sacrament Meeting, “Um, Miss, can we talk you? We noticed your wrecked RAV4 outside.” There was no guaranteed escape in the end but I think what made me furious was there was no provocation in the first place.
In all of three seconds I had gone from having a normal morning to contemplating attempted vehicular manslaughter. (My oh my how quickly things can change!) Luckily I stayed in line with the rest of the cars and stayed true to who I was. I wondered what on earth could have set off the cyclist as I seethed, “Cowards wear masks.” I looked up at the hill and thought it was ironic it was the same hill where Bridgett had been hit by a car in December. She had been coming down the hill on her bike on the other side of the road. Why did the masked bandit make it down safely when she could not? It didn’t seem fair.
The brief experience made for an interesting story at church. I told a few people about it but for the life of me I can’t remember who they were. I was ready to forget the whole thing when I sat down to watch the CES Fireside at 6 pm that night. Imagine my shock when Elder Quentin L. Cook said this six minutes into his talk, “There will be great pressure on each of you to act out of character - to even wear a mask and become someone who doesn’t really reflect who you are or who you want to be.”
You know that eerie feeling you get when you feel like someone has just read your mind? That was how I felt on Sunday! The timing was uncanny. “Mask” became the word of the day as I listened to Elder Cook say each of the following quotes:
“I do believe in our day when being anonymous is easier than ever that there are important principles involved in not wearing a mask and being true to the faith for which martyrs have perished.”
“One of your greatest protections against making bad choices is to not put on any mask of anonymity. If you ever find yourself wanting to do so please know that it is a serious sign of danger and one of the adversary’s tools to get to you to do something you should not do.”
“As you attempt to act your part and identify [Christlike] attributes you wish to develop you’ll want to list and study passages of scripture that teach about the attributes. Set goals and make plans to apply the attributes in your life and pray for the Lord to help you develop the attributes. In doing this you must not put on a mask and hide your true identity.”
“As you move towards marriage you must not wear any masks that hide inappropriate conduct that will be detrimental to you or your marriage.”
“Any use of the internet to bully, destroy reputation, or place a person in bad light is reprehensible. What we are seeing in society is that when people wear the mask of anonymity they are more likely to engage in this kind of conduct which is so destructive of civil discourse. It also violates the basic principles the Savior taught.”
“The righteous need not masks to hide their identity.”
“[I] pray that you will act well your part as you avoid wearing a mask, acting in accordance with your true identity, set appropriate goals and build the country and community where you live."
Pretty crazy, right? I was floored by the message and the immediate relevance it had to my experience that morning. I thought about all of the cheap shots anonymous commenters take at each other on one of my favorite news websites. I remembered Elder Bednar’s warning against becoming steeped in interactive computer games which offer the social crutch of an avatar. I wondered if there was ever a good reason to wear a mask.
I had just been listening to “The Phantom of the Opera” soundtrack the night before (another crazy coincidence) and I thought about his dependence on his mask. The Phantom wanted to be seen as a ghost. He had an immense gift for music but his naturally deformed face and the cruel treatment he received drove him underground. He set his sights on Christine Daaé and shepherded her to vocal stardom all the while scheming to keep her trapped with him forever. He had no qualms about murdering people who got in his way. While pleading for her fiancé’s life she was able to look the Phantom right in his unmasked eyes and kiss him. No one really knows her thought process (pure deception? a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome? true love?) but the Phantom found it in himself to let her go. Whether he destroyed himself moments later or lived the rest of his life in cloaked secrecy is unknown.
Contrasted with the timeless tale of Phantom of the Opera is the true story of Charla Nash. On February 16, 2009, Charla was attacked by her friend’s pet chimpanzee. She lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids in the brutal mauling. Three years later she has undergone two hand transplants, a face transplant and countless other surgeries. Months ago I saw a picture of her on Oprah with a veiled hat. I was thrilled to read her latest update and see a recent video which gave me so much hope. Despite everything that’s happened she knows he has something to live for. I couldn’t be more grateful for the example she is setting for her 20-year-old daughter. She is absolutely one of my heroes.
In the end I’m very glad I didn’t act out of character (or illegally) when the mystery cyclist flipped me the bird on Sunday. He was probably just having a bad day. I’m very grateful for church leaders who constantly point me in the right direction and encourage me to reflect on the small things which would otherwise seem insignificant. Sunday’s fireside helped me see that my greatest heroes don’t need masks.