How many Presbyterians does it take (you may have heard this one) to change a light bulb??
I get to repeat this, having been a Presbyterian for about sixty years and being intimately familiar with our reflex opposition to change. However. The global changes of the past 14 or so months have given an entirely new meaning to things like the trauma of switching a word in some obscure hymn.
With the baby steps we are now taking into the New Normal, some of it looks pretty abnormal. We – I, at least – created an interim sort-of normal and adjusted to it for a year. Wasn’t that normal? But now it does not feel normal to do normal stuff because we declared it not-doable for all those months of the old normal.
The #1 case in point is the Mask Issue. Early on, I found masks to be a giant bother: hot in the sunshine, uncomfortable oftentimes, and impossible when trying to communicate with someone hard of hearing. Not to mention the regular panic over having forgotten the mask when already a half-mile out on a walk or – heaven forbid – about to enter a Walgreen’s. In my building, one could be sent unceremoniously back to one’s apartment if unmasked in any public space, although eating and drinking were indeed allowed once public spaces opened up. But still, masks remain the rule. They can be quirky, funny, political, decorative; Brian the concierge quickly turned them into fashion statements by appearing in matching mask and tie sets (he has five in all.)
But now. The CDC says it’s fine for the fully vaccinated to go maskless outdoors. Some governors agree. Some governors are thinking it over. Some governors still think Donald Trump is president and everything is a hoax anyway: virus, masks, vaccine, you name it, it’s all just a hoax, 580,000+ U.S. dead people notwithstanding.
There’s only one universal truth:
We need to be VERY kind to one another. We’re all on the same planet, and in the U.S. that includes people who are going to keep wearing masks for a very long time and people who absolutely refused to wear masks and now are more or less validated. And definitely unmasked.
Recently, while walking in a super-trendy area of San Francisco, about a mile from my home (which is in a good but hardly trendy area itself) I had my mask hung over my left ear while eating an ice cream bar. I was overtaken – within a few feet, certainly not a proper social distance – by an attractive, well-dressed white man who appeared to be in his 50s or early 60s. He was fit, maskless – and angry. As he strode alongside we both slowed (or, he slowed to match my already-slow pace) and he glared into my eyes.
“I thought we don’t have to wear masks outdoors,” he said.
“Oh,” I said, with a disarming smile that did not disarm him, “I just keep mine handy, in case I want to go into a store or something.”
“Ridiculous,” he said, as he began to walk ahead. Which was my clue to let it drop. But still seeking to disarm I added, “Maybe we’ll all avoid getting the flu!”
“The hell with it,” he threw back over his shoulder. “I’m getting the flu. I’ve had it with this expletive, expletive, expletive.”
So much for friendly passages.
I worry about the fact that this guy and thousands with similar sentiments and temperaments will continue to co-exist (and walk the streets) with mild-mannered sorts like myself. I think we need to find ways to avoid both shouting expletives and making inane comments that provoke others to shout expletives. Could we plaster the country with posters to this effect:
AHOY, MASK-WEARERS: You haven’t been vaccinated, and are being extraordinarily considerate of the rest of us. You have compromised immune systems and must be super cautious. You have terrible cold sores disfiguring your mouth. Thank you for wearing that mask!
AHOY, ALL UNMASKED : Happy to see your smile. Isn’t it lovely to emerge from the dark days. Thank you for being fully vaccinated which I’m sure is true.
TO EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE: Let’s just cut each other a LOT of slack until the world turns fully right-side-up again.
Remaining masked doesn’t have to mean I’m a snob, or a Democrat, or a generally bad person. Being unmasked doesn’t have to mean I’m a threat to your health, or a Republican, or a generally bad person. Several billion masks have been manufactured or created since early 2020 and it’s going to take a long, long time for them to go away.
In the interim, maybe we could take a collective deep breath. And try smiling.