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 as without, 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, but 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.
Charles C. Finn September 1966
Charles Finn is a renowned American poet who was kind enough to contribute his famous poem to this blog so that his work could reach people all across the globe. You can see the journey of this poem here: