Like many people over this past year and a half, the topic of covid has become woven into my daily thoughts like an earworm burrowing deeper into my brain. This has become increasingly true now that my oldest child - a fully vaccinated teen - has returned to school in person. Currently, she is the only one to leave our home for any reason, as the rest of us can still do work and school from the safety of our misanthropic bubble.
Initially, with her gone, I thought it would be nice to have one less voice echoing in the cramped chambers of my home. However, given the fact that our school district doesn’t have any mask mandate or social distancing measures, I feel a little less excited about this transition. Though my daughter’s school is an outlier in terms of its masked population (meaning most everyone at her school does the sensible thing to protect themselves), the district’s policy remains that mask use is a choice to be made solely by the individual. A choice – you know, the same way that seatbelts and bike helmets used to be…and possibly still are, among the foolish.
The thing about choices, though, is that they don’t just affect the person making them. What we do affects our neighbors, their families, and the entire community. Our community affects the next community, those collective communities affect our state, each state affects our country, and our country affects the world.
Not to get all “butterfly effect” on the point, but it stands to reason that my single, solitary actions will touch the lives of others in some way. I may never know it. They may never know it. But that is how the inner connections of humanity work. We are all bound together in an unseen web of choices. And making a wrong one, as we are witnessing, can have dire consequences for others.
We recognized this at the start of the pandemic, as we kept our distance from all four of our “high-risk” parents for fear of infecting them. For almost a year, we had only occasional outdoor gatherings, never in the proximity to allow hugs from us or cuddles with their grandchildren. It was a bitter disruption of our family’s normal closeness, but we did it without hesitation to keep them safe.
By the time our parents were all vaccinated, my father-in-law had been diagnosed with a very rapid and terminal form of cancer. We continued to keep a distance from the rest of the world so we could spend those last months in his presence. I can’t fully put into words how surreal and wonderful it was to finally be able to hug him – or any of our parents - at last. Or how special it was that we got to share one last gathering – all nine of us – for my youngest child’s birthday. But it came as a direct result of sacrificing other things, namely a sense of congregation and comfort.
Now that my daughter is back in school, my fears have turned toward the safety of my two youngest children. I worry about what my daughter’s school year, and the potential exposure it brings, will mean for them since they are still too young to be vaccinated. I try to keep our protocols in place – shoes off at the door, contamination zone for outside items, hand washing once inside – but there is only so much we can do to fight a microscopic invader. Especially if outsiders are not also joining in the fight. And that is where masks come into prominent thought.
My mind bends and my heart breaks, with equal parts revulsion and shock, when I see those among our community who decry their use. I want to ask them in earnest: Is it really so hard to put on a piece of fabric over your face? It shouldn’t be. I was always taught, by my cautious mother, that it’s better to be safe than sorry. And in her teaching, she also made me aware that not everything in the world was about me!
Amazingly, it appears that part of our country has been raised by wolves and I pity them for not having a mother like mine. These people seem not to care about anyone or anything and would be just as happy to see our world descend into chaos under the guise of “freedom.” Along with their perversion of this word, they add to their stew of ignorance a heaping crock of unscientific claims and unfounded theories – enough to choke a horse medicated with ivermectin! They scream claims ranging from carbon dioxide poisoning to the evils of Bill Gates, all the while forgetting that what they should be fighting against is our one, common enemy. You know…the virus!
Meanwhile, as our state (Texas) is being run by a battery of political opportunists and intellectual imposters – men who deem safety protocols unlawful during A GLOBAL PANDEMIC THAT HAS TAKEN OVER 600,000 AMERICAN LIVES – our school kids are being put at risk. Daily. And they couldn’t care less. I mean, why would they? If our leaders get sick, they are immediately whisked away to get their monoclonal antibody treatments in a top-notch facility on the government dime; meanwhile, the rest of us wouldn’t be so lucky.
I would laugh if it all weren’t so tragic. There are many for whom this situation has already amounted to tragedy. And, as we try to play nice and aim to keep politics out of it, it’s just so hard when we see exactly who is behind this divisive mess of shenanigans – invariably, it’s always those who pretend to be pro-life, the ones who are constantly speaking about personal responsibility, who claim to salute our first responders and talk about national unity.
But you know what?? If you really want to save a life – WEAR A MASK! If you want to be responsible – WEAR A MASK! If you want to salute our first responders – WEAR A MASK! If you want to show your national unity – WEAR A FUCKING MASK!!
It’s pretty easy. Or it should be. But apparently these people seem to have forgotten their sense of civics or the understanding that freedom has a cost. Freedom is a collective goal, not just a personal entitlement. It demands that we strive for something bigger than ourselves, not solely to seek personal gain but to make the entirety of our group better. At least, that’s what it meant when our founders fought against British oppression in the Revolution. And it’s also what was intended when our grandparents (or great-grandparents, for some) fought against Nazi fascism in World War II. Those who fought for such freedoms often sacrificed a lot of personal comfort for the betterment of the entire country.
But now we have grown men and women balking like toddlers at the most meager form of discomfort, scuffing their heels on the ground and snorting in the dirt like braying mules because they can’t fathom giving up a little to save the life of another. They believe, wrongly, that they shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything for anyone, ever, even though our liberties were built on a web of courage and sacrifice they could hardly comprehend.
If we are to buy into the fantasy of our exceptionalism, surely the illusion has been tarnished – possibly eroded all together – by this one act of defiance. What is exceptional about scientific ignorance and partisan bickering? Nothing. We can pretend to live as before, claim we are doing so because we are “brave” and tired of “living in fear” – or because we are not branding ourselves as “sheeple” – but, at the end of the day, it is the truest form of cowardice; to refuse a simple measure because of one’s mere inconvenience.
As the covid numbers rise and more of our neighbors (and children) start to die, I wonder at what point people will start to admit they were wrong? If I’m wrong about masking and being overly cautious in the time of a plague, I will be the first to admit it. I will apologize to every Jim Bob and Southern-fried fool that I’ve sneered at under my mask. But, until that day comes, I’m going to do what comes naturally to me. I’m going to suck it up, do my part and WEAR A MASK. Because it’s not even a question. And it shouldn’t be for anyone else, either.