“Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing…once all other possibilities have been exhausted.” – famously misattributed to Sir Winston Churchill
My Dear Friend:
When you see me wearing a mask these days, think of me as you would think of a slightly eccentric but kindly uncle who only wants the best for you until you can inherit some of my considerable wealth.
When you wonder why I mask up like this or suspect I might be towing someone else’s line out of sheer dogged compliance, just know that when I wear a mask, it’s really all about you.
I could really care less what some high government official or healthcare expert says about wearing a mask. I don’t have much regard for either of them these days.
I could really care less for what you think of me, too. Please don’t take that the wrong way: this isn’t about me. It’s about you.
You see, I’m not the first one to wear my mask for you, and I won’t be the last.
The thing is, you matter to me. What you think. What you do. How you live in your corner of our crazy world.
It matters to me that you enjoy your culture, your home, your friends, your family, probably as much as anyone else does.
It matters to me that you think, feel, act, sing, pray, meditate, stream videos, vote, work at some occupation that matters to you, hold to your convictions, act as if…and it matters to me that you do all those things to help you belong in our world in the way that works best for you.
It matters that you do many of those things differently than I do. Yes: differently.
If we were all the same, what a boring place this world would be.
Yes, I know: underneath it all, we are all basically the same, but that’s not the point.
The point, my friend, is that I’ve run out of ways to honor you.
I’ve been locked down, quarantined, circumscribed, mandated, and browbeaten into compliance with arbitrary rules no one could have imagined last year. And so have you. We are, in this pandemic-infused moment of history, together in so many more ways than we are apart.
Except when we aren’t apart.
In those limited moments when I pass you on the sidewalk, or in the pharmacy or the grocery store, or on the subway, train station, bus, café, or empty shopping mall, most of my safe ways to honor you have been masked. You can’t always see me smile from my eyes. You can’t always see the compassion there, too.
And sometimes, my dear friend, you don’t want to. I can’t say I blame you. Things are fraught, and you might just find me offensive for any number of reasons that I don’t know and can’t guess.
But here’s the thing: I love you.
Doesn’t that just sound trite, pithy, and useless?
Honestly, sometimes it’s all I’ve got to give you. I can’t say it to you, can’t offer you my hand in greeting, can’t hug you like a long-lost parent or prodigal child.
Not because I don’t want to, but because I love you, and you deserve love, honor, and respect, and the usual ways I had for offering that to you aren’t options for me now.
I’ve had to invent a new way to show you that I care for you and for who you are. I’ve had to open what’s left of my much-battered heart and offer something to you from that vulnerable place. We are, after all, united in our pain right now more than in any other way.
Oh yes, I know you put on your brave face and walk it into the world every day as if pain isn’t a factor in your life, but that’s not why I love you. I love you, you see, because I used to be that person, too, and I have learned to live in this world “with its harsh need to change you” as the poet David Whyte writes.
The world has changed me, my friend, into that possibly-wealthy, slightly-eccentric, kind, (mostly) tolerant and accepting uncle you wish you had.
Well, you’ve got me. And you’ll know me when you see me. I’m the one wearing a mask.