Who Was That Unmasked Man?

One snowy winter day in Minnesota many years ago, I bundled up my first-born son Gregg, complete with light blue snowsuit, navy fur-lined aviator hat and hand-knitted mitten and headed to the store.  He wasn’t even two-years-old and couldn’t talk in sentences yet, but he noticed that I wasn’t wearing a hat or gloves.  He didn’t like wearing all that winter gear and asked me why I wasn’t wearing it.  I told him, “I have old hands.”  He looked at his hand thoughtfully for a few moments and stated, “Gregg old hands.”

Stunned by his rather complex thought process at a decidedly young age, I realized a few things.  First, clearly this was going to be a difficult child to raise, since he could out think me before he was even able to form sentences.  Second, I’d better come up with better excuses than “old hands”.  But the most important lesson was that I needed to enter the realm of being a role model.  Gregg and his two future siblings were not going to accept the “do as I say, not as I do” mantra.  I needed to teach by example.

So, for the next twenty-five years I led a life of role modeling honesty, integrity, but most importantly compassion.  My children deserved a reliable rock in this crazy world we live in, so I dubbed myself Gibraltar.  It was an exhausting way to live.  But parenting forces you to look outside of your own desires and care about another person’s needs, many times putting those needs ahead of living within your own comfort zone.

So that quarter century lifestyle of discomfort prepared me for the pandemic mask requirement.  I didn’t have a mask at the beginning.  With the shortage, it seemed that health-care workers had a greater need and my hopeless lack of sewing and craft skills kept me from creating my own.  Actually, it was my son Gregg who gave me a mask, since I’m around high risk individuals and have been the designated grocery shopper, thereby potentially exposing them through me to the virus. 

To be perfectly honest, if the mask was just for my protection, I wouldn’t wear it.  It’s hot, scratchy and uncomfortable.  My eye glasses fog up at times, leading me to hold my breath as I quickly attempt to read the best by date on the items that I’m purchasing at the grocery store.  At the check-out, same problem, holding my breath while typing in my debit card PIN.  Life would seem to be so much more comfortable without the mask, but then I look around at all the vulnerable people in the store and how the number of deaths from this virus are escalating.  How comfortable would I be knowing that my selfishness could expose others to a deadly virus? 

It’s difficult for me to understand why leaders are refusing to wear the mask and role model a reasonable method to protect human life.  Is it vanity?  Fear of having one’s hair mussed or makeup smudged?  Maybe they feel that it diminishes their role as leaders.  Do religious leaders believe that somehow God loves and protects them more than other people?  This is an extremely dangerous belief, since God loves to teach humility and dying alone, unable to breathe, is a most humbling way to end a life.  Maybe these leaders weren’t active parents and never needed to put another person’s health and safety ahead of their own personal interests.

But Marty and I have decided to embrace our current masked existence.  This morning we left the house with our Fleet Farm list, half-filled coffee mugs, cell phones and face masks.  As we stood on the front stoop, both of us noticed a teenager on the sidewalk.  His eyes grew wide with fear and surprise at our unexpected entrance and he signaled with his hands to his buddy who was rifling through our Ford Explorer in the driveway.  Where was a policeman when you needed one? Luckily for us he was pulling up to the 3-way stop on the corner.  He drove after the two, but wasn’t able to catch them, although he did recognize one of them.  So our morning outing was delayed as we visited with the officer and filed the complaint.  Did we feel fearful or violated by this experience?  Not really.  That came later in the morning when we finally made it to Fleet Farm. 

Quite a few people were shopping, some with small children and even dogs.  What was missing from this scene were face masks and social distancing.  A few of us were wearing masks to protect other people in the store, especially the young children as they too are facing fatal consequences from this virus.  We don’t know if we are carriers and we certainly don’t want other people to pay the consequences if we are simply two of those lucky people who don’t suffer symptoms from the virus. The loud speaker periodically came on, telling shoppers how much Fleet Farm cares about their health and instructing them to please practice social distancing.  But very few of the workers were wearing face masks and no one, not Fleet Farm employees or shoppers were making any serious attempt to practice social distancing.  “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work.  We did our best to distance ourselves, got through the store and checkout in record time, packed up the old Explorer, took off our masks and headed home. 

Hi Ho and away!  Hopefully, off to survive another day.

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2 Responses to Who Was That Unmasked Man?

  1. Lee Fawkes says:

    You’ve done right by putting on the mask. It’s the best you can do when mingling with unprotected people in public settings. Ellen has made several masks with a sewing machine (rarely out of the closet for years otherwise) here in Brooklyn using a soft towel material for mask (2 x 8 inches or so) and elastic sewn as loops at the ends to go around the ears — but she recommends checking out Amazon or Ebay,
    Trying times ahead for more reasons than the one in the White House…

  2. Carlos Jayne says:

    Thanks for this. It would be interesting to be able to get a survey with honest responses from the naysayers without masks. Just adding the modeling of mask wearing by government leaders and business leaders would probably increase a lot of usage and help to save some lives.
    One has to wonder why the two young thieves were not wearing masks so as not to be recognized.

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