Wednesday, March 04, 2015

It was disconcerting....

...and not a little scary. Working busily in a library on my laptop, a figure hurried in, black-clad and masked. It is rather horrible to be suddenlyconfronted with some one who will not reveal his or her face. I jumped for a moment.

My next thought: I must not, I dare not, show any fear.  Even a slight expression of concern might get me into serious trouble.

She used computer next to mine and, without any of the usual exchange of smiles - absolutely impossible when masked - speedily clicked on to whatever she wanted, and then left. No face visible, only eyes in a slit above the fully masked face, and a vast black robe cloaking  her to the floor.

In everyday life, a masked face sends a message of hostility: in present circumstances it is particularly unpleasant.  Probably the most fearsome thing, however, was my immediate realisation that if I were to show any normal fear or worry in the face of such hostility I could be punished. In theory at least, there is a possibility of the masked figure denouncing me for having shown an emotion she regarded as offensive and to demand that some form of official actio be taken against me.

I am rather glad that the tradition in whch I was brought up encouraged me not to give way to fear and not to make a fuss when something unpleasant suddenly came my way. This has stood me in good stead over the years and will continue to do so.

The Britain in which I learned these things was one in which no one could have imagined  my need of it in these circumstances.


Lisa Desmond said...

I rode the bus to work; one day two women (I think they were women) came and stood next to me at the bus stop. they were wearing the full face covering,only a slit for their eyes, long black robes. They actually could have been men for all you could tell; they were whispering in another language; never acknowledged me at all. It was so unsettling that when the bus came I stayed behind to catch the next one. I was 35 minutes late for work but I had such a visceral reaction to them that I was afraid to get on the bus.

Patricius said...

You mean you haven't even been slightly tempted to look in and say "Peep-Bo!"?

Elizabeth said...

Isn't it because people are intimidated and do nothing that these things are allowed? I left England in 1968, and have been shocked at what I'm reading about Britain these days. I think if I lived there now, I would be very angry at what the politicians have promoted and allowed to happen. I feel sick at what you wrote, I am so sorry.

Anonymous said...

As a Catholic growing up in the 1970s, my heart would sink when the IRA were in the news. I dreaded catching the bus and walking through town in my school uniform. While I "only" experienced suspicion, exclusion, the odd taunt and conversations subsiding when I approached, some of my peers had bricks thrown at them, and more than once our school closed early on the last day of term with warnings to get off the streets before the other schools broke up. It was horrible to feel feared for professing a faith that others had twisted to their political ends.

Perhaps the person you encountered felt fear too, grounded not in theoretical possibilities but in actual experiences similar to those of myself or (God forbid) my peers?

So speaking from my heart, I'm glad you didn't show your natural fear of the unknown, because for that short period of time the woman may not have felt feared or afraid. I pray that at any similar future encounters, supernatural love will cast out fear and you will be able to acknowledge the person. Perhaps Patricius' suggestion would be taking it too far when you've not been introduced, but you may be able to nod or even smile. After all, a smile will be easier for you because you won't be wearing a veil!

God bless,


Joanna Bogle said...

Dear Barbara

Of course I smiled at the masked person. It is, as I indicated, normal to exchange smiles with the person who sits next to you in a library. It's instinctive. The horrible thing was that there was no possibility of a smile being returned. And any suggestion that I might lift the veil would be exactly the kind of activity that could get me punished.

Please don't be absurd: as a young Catholic Londoner endurinmg terrorist threats in the 1970s I - and everyone else - knew perfectly well that the Church roundly and regularly denounced terrorism and that the IRA were not regarded as Catholics in good standing. Pope John Paul's dramatic plea in Ireland "on his knees" as he put it, was just one example of the Church's clear and unambiguous voice.

I would in no way have been punished for asking some one to remove an IRA mask - in fact I would probably have been regarded as being public spirited and brave for doing so.

Please understand that I am no stranger to people being rude to me about my religious beliefs. A sense of humour helps: even when I had a death-threat after one TV discussion it actually felt vaguely amusing, somehow. What I experienced in the library was something quite different, and it is something that you need to understand: the masked person next to me was in a position to have me officially punished if I had shown either fear or a desire to behave normally (eg to invite a return smile by a suggestion that the mask be removed).

The issue at stake is my freedom and yours, and the grim reality of living in a country where masked figures can intimidate us into ceasing to have normal human intercourse.

It's kind of you to offer prayers on my behalf: as it happens, my natural instinct to smile at my neighbour in a library - even when that neighbour is masked and clad in itimidating garb associated with recent massacres - does not require spectacular spiritual strength.

What does sometimes require spiritual assistance is remaining brave and cheerful when subjected to slightly priggish remarks (sorry! but read your message again, and think a bit!) after such a nasty experience. But again, a sense of humour helps!

Auntie J.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry.