How Our Masks Will Help Illuminate Our Way Forward Now

Photo Credit: Rhett Wesley

I’ve come to notice a few things about our six-feet-apartness. With all but eight states reopening at the time of this writing, the question remains how social distancing will fare as we begin. Truly, the stakes couldn’t be higher for some of us. We all know it’s awkward, communicating with our masks on, those of us who are true to keeping them on. But we simply must to protect the most vulnerable of us. For some it can be, to put it bluntly, a matter of six feet apart vs. six feet under. At least, that’s what we’ve seen. We have new social manners now, and risking a lack of etiquette can have serious repercussions for our neighbors and loved ones.

Consider a recent supermarket visit I had, where I noticed one young woman visibly bucking the guidelines. She was masked, to her credit, but either she had no awareness of what six feet meant and couldn’t gauge it, or just wanted to be more physically connected somehow. I think it was the latter.

She came to queue up behind me outside the store, but I was taken aback when she sidled right up to me (about six inches away) before settling in position behind me, about three feet away. Sensing her behind me, I turned, managed to position myself slightly outside the line, and farther away. She changed to four feet. I kept feeling her creep up closer as she talked with someone who had joined her, and periodically we did the same dance of forward, back, and sideways until we entered the store. About eight minutes. The fact is, by either habit or preference, she didn’t want to hold to six feet apart. I could have said something of course, but I simply protected my own space, observing her behavior. Once in the store, I also noticed several other people becoming frustrated to reach for whatever item they wanted if someone was in front of them, holding the space. Then they’d quickly or not so quickly risk the divide.

So I ask you: How is all this going to work when we are more open? Once more people congregate, it seems inevitable that we are all going to have to increase our awareness of each other if we are to attempt to hold to any strides we’ve made to slow the virus down. Is this doable?

Of course it must be, though I do think there is something to be said about the task ahead: that states are willingly allowing us to put additional lives at risk for the sake of economic concerns. I think most people understand that it’s too soon to do, but it is what’s happening, so we must do our best to adjust and hold on to the moral center of what we need to do: increase our consciousness of each other.

By most accounts, we can’t look to the collective to protect us, either nationwide, or statewide as we endure this. Though thankfully, many supporters do exist at every level if we seek them out. Yet there is no quick unmasked fix at this moment, as much as we would like that to happen.

However, our masks and new etiquette can teach us some essential things:

• First, they encourage us to go within, so we can plumb what matters most to us, and with those insights, work to improve our individual lives from this point forward.

• Second, as a by-product of distancing, we can learn better boundaries and promote more peace in our lives than we may have had prior to this.

• Third, they offer us an opportunity to be more respectful of each other than we’ve been in decades. If we learn that alone, we may well be on our way to creating an improved “new normal.”

• Fourth, the visual starkness of seeing a sea of masked faces breaks down our predictable patterns as a society. Face upon face, shock upon shock, as we take them in, they affect our deepest sensibilities. Ideally, once we regroup when the virus has been abated, we may be more open to collaborate globally as a “world culture.” Out of necessity. Ultimately, that means global unity — and what a neat trick that would be.

So we must all help each other get through at this time. Let’s visualize this becoming a reality, and work toward creating it, step by step. Then we can lay the groundwork to create a world where masks won’t be necessary. By seeking an end to the “viral strains” of pollution, environmental and animal abuses, collective toxic beliefs and behaviors, and gluts of harsh words directed toward each other, we’d be well on our way.

These are some of the things that wearing our masks and social distancing can bring to our consciousness. So let’s look for the “lining” in our masks. They may not silver by any stretch of the imagination, but for now, having them on can help illuminate our path forward, as we look with compassion on the world-weary, frightened, and care-worn faces that mirror our own.

Face forward, everyone. It’s the only way to go.