Those who wear no masks


Mid-afternoon wind brought with it the crispness of another late October day and the promise of cooler temperatures. Asheville, North Carolina in the fall is the perfect place for a vacation with the one you love. You can walk the streets and take in the eclectic sights the mountain city has to offer. A quick getaway with The Wife and a perfect time to forget about the problems of the world for a while — or was it?

Also carried by the wind was the pungent odor of the unbathed man playing a harmonica on the street corner at the top of the hill. His homemade sign professed that, through no fault of his own, he had been caught in the recent wave of downsizing and begging for money was the only source of income his family had. We enjoyed the music for awhile, dropped a twenty in his box then crossed the street.

From the other side, I watched as two nicely dressed ladies, wrinkled noses and all, crossed the street just prior to reaching the corner to avoid him. On their faces they wore masks of uncaring, eyes fixed straight ahead. These were unlike the masks both displayed each Sunday while sitting humbly on the front row during church services. Those would be the masks of hypocrites.

In my short life it never ceases to amaze me how much you can learn about people you come in contact with simply by listening and watching. I guess that’s why you have two ears, two eyes, but only one mouth.

You’re supposed to listen and watch twice as much as you talk. Those who shout from the mountain tops how religious they are and how much they care really can’t hold a candle to those who quietly go about their lives doing good deeds in the community in which they live. The truly good ones are easy to spot. They’re the ones not wearing any masks at all.

Without exception, this has been the rule as far back as I can remember — as far back as 110 Flamingo Street. Those who wear no masks look for no reward, no admiration. They simply try to leave this world in a better state than when they got here.

If there’s one thing in this life I could change, I would remove all the masks people wear, exposing them for what they really are. Or for what they really aren’t.

Halloween will soon be upon us, one of the few days it’s appropriate to wear a mask in public and pretend to be someone or something that we’re not. Unfortunately too many of us wear masks throughout the year, fooling everyone but ourselves.

The reflection in the bathroom mirror can be difficult to view sometimes. Actions do speak louder than words. That was apparent with the ladies in Asheville. And perhaps some of the people you work with.

This winter, do more than just wear a mask and talk about how much you care or how religious you are. Don’t walk to the other side of road. Remove your mask. Volunteer at the local food bank, donate clothing to a shelter, or ask your church how to get more involved. The world is hurting now more than ever. And we can help heal it. One kind act at a time.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is]