It’s Friday, and also our church is finally going to get to meet again, which means that all of the children who haven’t yet had to put on a mask are going to have to for the first time. There has been a lot of moaning about this fact, along with the tragic fact that we will not be able to sing much or at all. But I’ve been putting on a mask to go places for the last three months, and I have some thoughts, as you knew I would. So here they are.
After the initial unpleasantness of breathing one’s own breath over and over wears off, and the adjusting of glasses so that they don’t fog up, I find I settle in to a not unpleasant muffled feeling. It’s possible to read a book in a mask, as I generally do while sitting around at hand therapy, and the feeling of isolation even when a lot of people are around is actually quite desirable. The boundary between me and the rest of humanity is there all the time anyway, but now there is a physical sensation to confirm the fact. And yet, there we are all together, struggling along behind masks. The barrier illumines a reality that exists all the time, I just never take the trouble to notice it.
The child having her elbow bent all over the place has tried out every variety of mask, and has lots of feelings, but is uncomplaining, really, about the fact of its existence. I don’t think she minds the cut off sensation either. In other words, for the true introvert, a mask actually makes going out in public almost endurable.
Indeed, a certain kind of formality takes over my own mind. It is very hard to talk, and so I have to think very hard about what I will say if I do say anything. It’s like when I’m dressed up in very uncomfortable clothes. I am so aware of how my body is feeling that everything slows down into slow motion. At first this sensation is wretched, but after a while, it feels like sort of a cone of safety. I am much more unlikely to say or do something stupid while wearing a mask, than I would otherwise, especially when I am racing through life.
In fact, I’ve been thinking that everyone should dress up more because it would be healthier. If one wore a suit and tie just to go to the grocery store, or a hat and gloves and heels, one might be inclined to pause before touching absolutely everything, to move more slowly, to consider before just filling up the huge gaping maw of the cart with all the sugar cereal. All electronical items, I think, should only be purchased wearing formal business attire or maybe even a full ball gown. I think this would be good for the environment because it would feel stupid to buy a 25 cent piece of plastic in something hand-embroidered in lace.
But really, as I’ve wandered around town with my face covered, what I’ve most longed for was a cyber version of the mask. Not the antifa-pull-the-world-apart-for-no-reason-mask, but a proper keep-the-world-from-dying-of-covid-mask. I spent a whole afternoon trying to think about what this would be. Maybe a computer where a lot of the keys stick and it’s very annoying to type anything. Or a device that whenever you are about to post a picture or tweet a tweet, a little window comes up to say, “If you still want to post this in an hour, come back and push send a second time, but if you’ve forgotten, no harm no foul, the world will be better for your having changed your mind.” I don’t know, I feel like if the iPhone can be a thing that exists, so should a technological invention to encourage restraint.
The mask, essentially, shows me in a visceral way that I have the capacity to cause others great and grievous harm. I know that this is true intellectually, of course. I can get sick and pass it along, or I can say something that wounds another, or my mind can fall prey to some poisonous idea that will ruin my life and the lives of others–all kinds of bad things can not only befall me, but come out of me, my heart in particular. The line, “and there is no health in us” takes on poignant significance when I have to put on a mask.
So also does the very presence of so many other people surrounding me, most of whom, especially somewhere like a store, I don’t know. I myself am not sick at the moment. I don’t have a cold or a fever or anything. I am basically fine, but for the sake of others, I have to put a shield over the source of my very own breath–my nose and mouth. Of course, God is the source of my life, and whether I am wearing a mask or not, he knows the true state of my health and my soul. But, for the sake of others, I can die a little death and cover my own breath, I can count the wide world as more significant than myself. I need not even use it as another means of self-expression, writing something on the front to let you know who and how I am. I can recede, I can decrease, I can let others and their good health go in front of me.