On the Mask

Crisis doesn’t create character. It reveals it.

Ice T

Everywhere I look there is a debate about following the CDC guidelines to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Social distance, wear a mask when indoors or in spaces you can’t social distance, wash your hands, all are key reminders even my radio station parades between songs on my car radio. We all see the rising cases, the increasing deaths, the call for others to heed these measures to stop the spread. I go to social media and the news and see the controversy that even 6 months into a global pandemic the population cannot agree upon. And as the flu season approaches, debates rage over school openings, and the looming election, it is becoming even more critical a consensus is reached.

Regardless of where you stand, the pandemic has dramatically changed our lives and habits. It has changed the landscape of the work environment, schooling, how we socialize, where we go and how we shop. Things we took for granted, like stopping to meet friends at a restaurant for late night drinks on a Friday night, take on a new dimension. Did I bring a mask? Do I have hand sanitizer? Do I trust that the people I am meeting are not infected or have been around infected people? Behavior that was seen as high risk for things like STDs, assault, or just a broken heart take on new meaning when a highly communicable disease that may cause great harm to some, or mild symptoms to others, is a possibility. And science and medicine are only beginning to understand the nature of the disease, such that even mild cases may not be as benign as once thought.

So we are all changed, whether we like it or not. Ironically, the contentiousness surrounding measures like wearing a mask is revealing just who has been wearing one in their daily life all along. Empathy, kindness, generosity, selfishness, righteousness, apathy, greed, ego, soul are all on display in the choices we cannot hide in the dark or behind the courtesies we were taught. Each decision could result in the ultimate sacrifice for some—life—or for others, quality of life. The disease rages on, irrespective of whether it infects a sinner or saint, while it does what it does—replicates in a host. Those it doesn’t touch directly it touches indirectly, through loss of friends, family, livelihood, and an uncertain future. When the pandemic first broke, my colleague and friend said no one would escape unscathed. We would all be affected. I didn’t want to believe him, but deep inside I knew he was right. It was the only time in my life that I understood what it meant when someone said “I need a drink.” So I sat, in a bar in the UK, gin and tonic in hand, and looked at that colleague and a few others sitting with me. And together we put our heads down to help, as we could, with the massive response we all saw must happen to restore our world as we know it.