all of the selves we Have ever been
This pandemic, shelter-in-place experience has been like a see-saw ride.
One moment I am up high in the air, my behind slipping and sliding while I hang on tightly, both hands clenching a tiny handle. I am frightened but energized and telling myself that I am not afraid, I can do this, even though all of the power and control is in the big butt on the other end of the board.
If circumstances keep me high up in the air too long, I feel helpless and angry and want to be let down. When my position is released too quickly, I hit the ground hard and a shock goes up my spine zapping me in the head. My entire body vibrates. I want to get off but I am too dizzy to stand. Then the ride begins all over again. I am caught in an endless cycle of up and down—from “I can do it” to “I can’t take it.”
Last night was a sleepless one. I was stuck in the “I can’t take it” arc of the circle.
The trouble started with the governor’s two o’clock afternoon news conference. Governor Mike DeWine amended the previous day’s order requiring all citizens to wear face coverings when out in public buildings as the economy re-opens. After hearing from many people, the Governor said the wearing of face masks is now a strong recommendation and not an official order. From the follow-up questions of reporters, it was easy to tell that a storm would be coming, people taking strong positions on each side of the face covering discussion. I remained troubled the rest of the day.
As I lay awake into the early morning hours of a new day, I turned on the radio and heard a late-night radio talk show host stirring a pot of anger and contempt aimed at the state government and the recommendation.
To me, it seems like a small request in an extraordinary time. The entire world and the world economy are shaken and threatening to dissolve. And yet, wearing a face mask is too much to ask?
I struggle to understand it. I realize that there are people who suffer with lung diseases like COPD, emphysema, and asthma. These folks may not be able to wear a mask when every breath is already hard work. There are people who suffer from claustrophobia and memories of trauma, individuals with autism who cannot tolerate the change or sensory experience. I understand that. I have held a lot of those anxious, sweaty hands in my lifetime. They will not be donning face masks, not because they won’t, but because they can’t. I believe in exemptions of mercy.
Ironically, the TV program, The Masked Singer, aired last night. It is a show that is growing in popularity. The game is to guess the real identity of the masked singer. Now the singer is not just wearing a mask but an elaborate costume as well. Clearly, people will wear a mask, even a cumbersome costume, for fun. That goes for Halloween as well. No one complains. Of course, it is voluntary.
But we live with many mandates about what we can and cannot wear. These mandates have been dictated by fashion, custom or health and safety. The first thing that comes to mind is the mandate, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” I don’t see any shoeless, shirtless protestors outside the governor’ office.
I have problems with my vision. I cannot operate a motor vehicle without corrective lenses. It says so right on my driver’s license. Makes sense to me.
No matter how miserable my clothes might feel, I cannot go out in the world buck naked. It is not called freedom; it is called public indecency.
I cannot carry my handbag into a crowded arena no matter how beautiful or expensive the bag. If I want to attend the concert or sporting event, I have to conform to safety guidelines.
I am patted down at airport terminals because of a small wire implant in my breast. This is inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing, but do I make a scene and demand my rights? No, I am grateful that the safety technology is sensitive when I am about to climb 35,000 feet in the air with people whose motives I cannot know.
Many of us are accustomed to wearing identification badges or uniforms to work. We may be required to wear a safety vest or steel-toed boots. If we want the job and the safety, we conform.
Sometimes we tolerate miserable things for fashion or custom alone. In past history men wore robes and powdered wigs. I doubt that was comfortable in a world of lice and no air conditioning. Ask women about corsets, girdles, bras, and Spanx. You will get more than a fashion statement.
Add to the list removing guns or concealed weapons before entering a public building. If you send your child to school without a coat in freezing weather, someone will call protective services. We don’t wear shoes on the ice skating rink. We are asked to cover tattoos and wear hearing protection at work or at the firing range.
In times like these, I look to doctors for science and advice and to little children for magic and wisdom. The doctors think wearing a mask is a good idea. Young children from pre-school through early elementary school engage in critical socio-dramatic play, better known as dress-up or make-believe. This beautiful form of play is so important to human development and the experience of empathy. Children are trying on roles to better understand how the world works and what it feels like to be another person in other circumstances. Among the personas they try on are those of their parents and teachers. Children are trying to emulate—to gain some of the super powers they believe grown-ups contain. They practice for a time when they will be in our shoes.
This type of play also helps children to understand and work out their own fears and concerns. Children delight us with this play and with their portrayals of the adult world. A child putting on a mask might feel like grown-up or a surgeon. Children understand that the dress, costume or uniform helps to distinguish who is who…who is the doctor, who is the lineman, who is the helper and who is the bad guy. This makes the world feel safer and more manageable. It helps grown-ups too.
In our current circumstances, we are not wearing masks to conceal, but to reveal. These masks or face coverings gives us membership in a special community much needed during a terrible time that calls for solidarity and not contempt.
Every day young servicemen and women, many still teenagers, put on heavy uniforms and tight-fitting boots. They strap on equipment, weapons and ammo that weigh in excess of thirty pounds, and then they go to a shack or a tower and stand guard for twelve to fourteen hours surveying the land, seas and skies for enemies. My mask is so light that its weight is imperceptible. I can strap it on for them so that they do not have to worry about catching missiles from the enemy and COVID-19 from me. I can wear a mask for the ER workers and first responders who are taking the heat of this viral fire. I can wear it as a memorial for the people who have died and will have no funerals, and to acknowledge the sorrow of the families who have had no opportunity to say goodbye.
I consider my mask to be a greeting card to all of those who are taking chances because they have to. It is a message to my neighbors that their lives matter too. It is an example for my children. I want to do this is for all of them, especially when there is so little else that I can do. Masks are power. Power to the people.
A mask is a new badge of honor and courage. Please wear one. Do it simply or do it with style. It supports safety, health, and life, and it supports the economy too.
I grew up with a famous masked hero. He survived an ambush that killed his fellow Texas Rangers. Let’s adopt the moral code of the Lone Ranger, who survived a terrible assault and went on to do so much good in the world:
I believe that to have a friend,
a man must be one.
That all men are created equal
and that everyone has within himself
the power to make this a better world.
That God put the firewood there
but that every man
must gather and light it himself.
In being prepared
physically, mentally, and morally
to fight when necessary
for what is right.
That a man should make the most
of what equipment he has.
That 'this government,
of the people, by the people
and for the people'
shall live always.
That men should live by
the rule of what is best
for the greatest number.
That sooner or later...
we must settle with the world
and make payment for what we have taken.
That all things change but truth,
and that truth alone, lives on forever.
In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.