As we live through one of the most divisive eras in our nation’s history, I think there is something on which we can all agree, that being that 2020 has been one crazy ride and it ain’t over yet. Perhaps you, like me, have listened to the stories of our grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and WWII with just a tinge of envy or seen turmoil and uncertainty of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War era through the eyes of our parents and wished we could have witnessed history in the making as they did. Well, be careful what you wish for, kids. So far, in one year, we have seen a global pandemic, the near-total shutdown of our national economy, and violence and unrest erupting in our streets at unprecedented levels. When we think of those who came before, who lived through deprivation, unspeakable loss and seismic culture shifts, we often think of the ways in which those experiences shaped their character. And this, of course, is true. We all have the crazy (great-) uncle or aunt who lived through the lean times of the 1930s and 40s who saved every Cool Whip container and random scrap of metal because “You just never know when that might come in handy.”

But let us consider for a moment not what we become as a result of our experiences, collective and personal, but rather how our experiences say what we have become. Ironically, I see no greater example of this unveiling than in the various responses to mask mandates; how we react to being asked or required to cover ourselves reveals a great deal about what lies beneath. Here are a few of my observations.

Despite slogans such as “We are in this together.”, nothing seems further from the truth. We seem determined as a nation to label and subdivide ourselves and others as much as possible. You are a masker or an anti-masker. You are a fearful sheep or someone who has no regard for the lives of others. Prior to masks being mandated more broadly, there was a literal visible divide amongst us as we bought groceries, went to church, or stopped at the post office. As someone who is skeptical of the necessity of masks, I felt the stares of those wearing them and felt the instant connection of eye contact with those around me who were unmasked. Now we can argue about masks vs no masks some other day, but my point is no issue should prevent us from extending basic courtesy and respect to one another. Grown women should not yell at small children whose parents have chosen not to put masks on them and they should also not destroy displays of masks or, worse, urinate in stores that require you to wear them. We should look at one another and assume that we are pursuing what seems like the most rational course of action and move on. Isn’t this the era of you do you? I understand that if you are someone who believes that my not wearing a mask is a danger to you there would be a certain resentment on your part, but that’s where personal responsibility comes into play. Just as I choose to avoid stores that require masks while respecting their right to enforce that policy, you have the right to avoid spaces where masks aren’t required. In the age of grocery store deliveries and Amazon, you could avoid leaving the house all together. With the stricter guidelines now regarding masks, I find myself staying home more to avoid having to wear one.

In the course of my job, I meet with people from all over the socio-economic spectrum throughout the day. I look for ways to genuinely sympathize and identify with each of them. Not in a fake I’ll-just-nod-my-head-so-I-sell-you-some-life-insurance way but truly looking for common ground or at least sympathizing with their perspective even if I don’t share it.

Whether you have created a decontamination chamber in your foyer and require your family to strip down every time they enter the house or you are currently on Zillow researching properties in Wyoming and preparing to permanently live off the grid, our current situation should have us all unified in one thought: death comes for us all. What form it will take is unclear. But it will come and I believe that when it does, we will be unmasked before our Creator and asked to justify our actions here on earth. I for one have enough to be ashamed of in my thoughts, words and deeds. I don’t need to add pride, resentment, or unkindness regarding mask mandates to that list. So let’s all look for ways to make the world a little brighter, a little warmer. Smile big under that mask; pray for others while washing your hands and maybe when the masks finally come off, in this life and the next, we will be happier with who we see in the mirror.


6 Responses to “Unmasked by Masks”


  1. Xan Bozzo

     

    Thanks for the reflections, Amy. First and foremost, I wholeheartedly agree with what you describe as your main point: “no issue should prevent us from extending basic courtesy and respect to one another.” This is certainly true (and sadly not always the case).

    But there are two things I would push back on here: (1) that it is somehow misplaced to “judge” others who choose not to wear a mask. I sensed this as an undercurrent in your piece, but perhaps I misinterpreted you here. And (2) that we can divorce (1) from the question of “masks vs no masks,” as you put it.

    With respect to the first point, consider if someone walked into the supermarket barefoot; or, to give a more extreme case, someone who walked in naked, or was talking excessively loud on the phone, or just generally being rude to others. Certainly we could be respectful to such individuals and yet “judge” that what they are doing is wrong or misguided. We might, in some instances, move ourselves to another part of the store, give them “a look,” or even confront them; and none of this would necessarily imply that we are being disrespectful or failing to extend basic courtesies. Indeed, imagine someone who walks in with a shirt reading “____ God” (I’ll leave it to others to fill in the blank here). Would you not, in some sense, disapprove of their behavior, perhaps giving them a stare?

    But notice that all of these cases, while warranting the responsive behavior or thoughts mentioned, involve arguably less serious offenses than that involving the issue of masks. If it is true that there is a novel virus going around that is killing a large number of individuals (as I believe there is), and if taking the small step of wearing a mask would help mitigate this outcome, then wouldn’t similar behavior or thoughts be warranted? (Again, to emphasize your main point, this needs to be done respectfully.) The barefoot or naked shopper is not actually risking anyone’s life, but the one who refuses to wear a mask may very well be. And note, this is not merely a matter of avoiding stores that don’t require masks. I may avoid stores that have no mask policy, and yet the fact that such stores exist may still increase the chance of my getting it, for it can be passed on to others who I may have contact with outside of the relevant store (I am just using myself as an example, I am not myself too concerned with how the virus would affect me).

    If correct, then, this leads to my second point: the truth about the efficacy of masks seems essential to the discussion; I’m not sure we can bracket such considerations, when discussing how we should approach others who are or are not wearing masks. There are other matters to factor in here as well: for instance, how complex is the issue? Whether one should walk into a store naked is not a difficult issue to come to a reasoned conviction about, but vegetarianism or universal healthcare, for instance, are a bit more complex. Thus, again, I am not sure we can divorce the the underlying issue, and one’s response in the situations you describe.

    Reply
  2. Shannon Bryan

     

    I especially liked your closing comments about death. I believe this is the core issue behind all of the mask- no mask argument — the fear of or idea that death is avoidable. AMEN “our current situation should have us all unified in one thought: death comes for us all. What form it will take is unclear. But it will come and I believe that when it does, we will be unmasked before our Creator and asked to justify our actions here on earth. I for one have enough to be ashamed of in my thoughts, words and deeds. I don’t need to add pride, resentment, or unkindness regarding mask mandates to that list.”

    Reply
  3. Rachel

     

    What harm does wearing a mask do to you? If there’s even the slightest chance it could protect you and others, why not just do that?? I don’t really understand.

    Reply

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