The other day, I was at Aldi – my 2nd favorite grocery story (Wegman’s is always #1) – stocking up on all of the goodness that you can purchase without breaking the bank. I’m very OCD about how I shop. I know all the aisles, I buy pretty much the same items, and I don’t linger! Between parking, shopping, and loading the car, I’m done in about twenty minutes…half an hour, tops! Can you tell I’m proud of this, haha?

Anyway, normally I don’t engage much with other shoppers or workers. I’m on a mission! But this time, as I was loading my items on the conveyor belt, the cashier asked the obligatory, “Hi, how are you?” and I glanced up quickly to automatically respond, “Great, and you?” only to scramble back to the task of taking groceries out of the cart.

The response I heard was a soft sigh, and she said, “Oh, I’m fine.” Something in her tone made me look up for real, even though she hadn’t exactly sounded upset. When I finally looked at her, I could see she had been crying. I must have made a sympathetic face (I am SO bad at hiding emotions), and she smiled ruefully. “Ok, not fine, but we gotta put on the happy face, right?” she said with a shrug.

This entire interaction happened within seconds, but it kept me thinking for the rest of day. Why do we automatically tell everyone we’re fine? Why do we cover up, wear a mask and pretend we’re better than we are? Who started the mask-wearing trend…a trend that we’ve taught each generation and unintentionally handed them their own masks? Who told us that we “gotta put on the happy face”?

Why can’t we just be real with each other?

maskSometimes, I feel like wearing a mask comes so easily to us. It’s as if we feel that if people really knew us, they wouldn’t like what they saw. “She’s too emotional, too depressing to be around,” or “He’s always complaining! He’s so annoying to hang out with!” So we don’t talk about what’s bothering us…we simply tie on that mask and fake a smile. And when people ask, “How are you?”, we instantly, robotically respond, “Fine.”

Now, I have to say, there are 2 types of masks we can wear. The first is the “Happy Face”, and the other is the self-centered, attention-seeker face. I think when we try too hard to look for sympathy, that is just as bad as pretending we’re a-ok! We’re all going through something. We all have a story to tell. But I’ve discovered people appreciate honesty and a genuine attitude over faked enthusiasm or woe-is-me.

Let’s work on being real. Let’s really strive to understand and become better listeners, better life-givers, and not just speed through our days with a mask over our faces. I don’t know what the cashier was going through at the grocery store that day, but I hope that the smile I gave and the few seconds of conversation was comforting and genuine to her. “We all have hard days,” I said to her, “and it’s ok to not be ‘fine’ sometimes!”

Let’s start loosening the mask.