A few days ago, I posted a picture on Instagram wearing a mask and hashtagged it wear your damn mask. It’s not a political statement. The only agenda I’m pushing is one where I don’t die from the thing that I cannot mention. You know it. You hate it as much as I do. I don’t have to name it because, oh sweet pixies, I just can’t form the word with my mouth or typing fingers.
I’m over it, and yes, I know that doesn’t mean it’s over. Not voicing its name doesn’t diminish its presence, and it doesn’t make it suddenly vanish. Poof, begone evil microbe and never return. You. Shall not. Pass! Don’t pass go. Don’t collect a hundred dollars. Go straight to the prison cell in hell you no-good, nefarious, scoundrel.
Whew, I have a lot of pent up emotions that I should let out more often. Usually, I shove them far down into the pit of my stomach until those feelings eat through my stomach lining. Why do I get ulcers? Is it the medication I take? The copious amounts of tea I drink? No, I don’t use my words when people genuinely and kindly ask how I’m doing.
I’m fine. No, seriously, I’m good. Where did I put the antacid? Should I buy stocks in the company? Am I single handily financing that company? Possibly. Well, that sounds a lot like insider trading but okay, sure, let’s do it. Clearly, I’m an expert in business, economics, and finance. Obviously. It’s plain as day. Is the sarcasm translating through these written words?
I can’t bring myself to name the thing that’s wreaking havoc on our lives and my sanity. However, I’m taking it very seriously and employing as many precautions as I can. There’s no singular thing that will magically protect me, or you. If only it were that easy! Alas, no, it’s a team sport and I just wish everyone would play on the same team.
It would also help if the game wasn’t continuously in flux, and the rules weren’t changing on, what feels like, a whim. I turn on the news, read through the latest numbers, and try to figure out the new terms of service. Is anyone else struggling to keep up? I want to do the right thing, be a part of the solution, but there’s so much information coming at me. It’s hard to wade through it all and decipher truth from fanfiction.
That said, there’s a constant theme that’s been shown to work. Wear a mask if you can, keep your distance, and wash your hands. When these steps have been observed, the numbers go down, and we’re all a little safer. It’s not perfect! It won’t completely erase the risk or the evil microbe, but it gives us a better chance.
As someone with a compromised immune system, and someone who has had this damn thing once? Well, I’m just trying to stay alive and keep the people I love in fighting shape. Is that too much to ask for? Nah, it’s basic entry-level stuff which is all I’m qualified for, because the ideal candidate needs at least five years of experience.
So, I took a picture of myself wearing that blasted mask and posted it to my socials. No big deal. One and done. Give it a second thought? Nope, I figured no one would notice or care, but I was a smidgen wrong.
There was a simple comment that made me pause, bite my tongue, and take a deep breath. The commenter said, “I struggle with this.” That’s it. Simple and straight to the point. No hate. No judgement. It was a clear and unobtrusive statement.
But, of course, the internet being what it is, I read it with foggy glasses. My knee jerk reaction had me preparing for a fight, but I’m too tired. I’ve been physically and mentally drained for months. The well is dry. The soles of my shoes have worn thin. I’m out of gas, steam, and f***s. I don’t want to fight over a piece of cloth covering my face.
Why do people want to fight?
I had my first real-world encounter with a passionate anti-masker a couple of weeks. Now, where I live, most people mind their own and pay little attention to what others are doing. We all make our own choices and let each other live with them in peace. Also, we’re a nation that’s perfected the art of passive aggression. I’ve never met a Canadian who couldn’t give the most polite side-eye you’ve ever seen.
You’ll feel judged but in a kind way. It’s a skill so ingrained in our national identity that’s it’s a part of the citizen entry exam. Okay, that’s not true, so don’t spend hours practising in front of the mirror. Don’t worry, you’ll catch on and achieve expert status in no time.
Even with the side-eye, most of us let our differences slide because there are a lot of reasons why people won’t, or can’t, wear masks. You don’t owe me an explanation. I will keep my distance, for my own safety, but you do what you need to do for yourself.
So, it surprised me when this man confronted me about my mask. I was putting my recyclables in the bins when he came up to me and made a snide comment. I was taken aback, but I looked up at him and said, “Well, sir, I had COVID six weeks.”
He jump back real quick for someone who doesn’t believe in our current situation. Huh, how curious. You have a good day, sir. All the best. God speed, or whatever niceties fit your fancy.
I just wanted to sort my paper and plastic in peace. Was that too much to ask for? A fight? An argument? I’m too damn tired. I was sick two months ago, but I still can’t shake the effects of that damn virus. Which, I know, I said I wouldn’t mention, but I just named it twice. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to go there, but it’s where I ended up.
I just can’t do it anymore. I don’t wanna do it. I want to order pizza, brew a cuppa tea, and pretend that everything is fine, good, just dandy. Throw in a couple of antacids, and it’s a party. Is that too much to ask for?
Ask for? Huh. Hold up, wait a second, and pause the video. That’s an idea. Instead of fighting, I can ask a question and see what happens. Obviously, there’s a time and a place for that sort of thing. An encounter with a grumpy dumpster man, who was revving up his engines? Nope, not the time. A comment on Instagram? Yeah, let’s give it a try.
So, that’s what I did. I swallowed my ego, restrained my snarky response, and asked, “Why? What makes this a struggle for you?” I also added that I’m not looking for a fight. I just want to know where you’re coming from.
You, and whoever reads this note.
It’s such a simple thing, asking a question. It cracks open a window and invites a conversation. Statements are door jams, especially online, and they shut down any hope of communication. We’ve been programmed to read comments with a fighting spirit because, too often, the special few are looking for a sparring partner.
Which is why we can’t have nice things!
Asking a question is such a simple response, but it opened my mind in a way I didn’t expect. Instead of a fight, I got a reply that was heartfelt and open. It was a sharing of a reality that I don’t experience and a perspective I hadn’t given much thought. It also showed me that, despite differing opinions, we share more than we realize.
It’s amazing how much we have in common when we stop fighting and start asking questions. The conversation that followed brought up a lot of feelings I’ve been struggling with, but I haven’t had the words to express. The sense of loss and the grief that it brings. Frustration because I can’t control, change or fight this thing in any meaningful way. The powerlessness that comes with that loss of control is terrifying.
Then I look beyond myself and the storm of emotions that I’m swallowing. I see the much larger picture of sickness and death that I can’t begin to process. The numbers don’t sound real. My mind can’t process the images I’m seeing. It’s all too much, and I desperately want to go back to the way things were a year ago when I was happily living in sweet innocence.
Oh, I need to take a deep breath and bid a hasty retreat. My apologies, I can’t spend too much time in that headspace. I’ve gotta bring it back close to home because that seems a little more manageable.
Reading through the reply, I found myself nodding along. I understand where they’re coming from, and yes, masks have come to symbolize loss, fear, and uncertainty. It’s an inadvertent symbolism, but the link is there and I see it. I hadn’t given it much thought until I read through someone’s experience, but now— Yeah, I get it, and I see why you’re struggling.
I’m not going to stop wearing the mask because of its opaque symbolism. It’s still one thing I can do to slow the spread. It’s small. It might not amount too much. It is, for me, better than nothing because I don’t do well when I can’t do anything. There’s so much I can’t do to help or change my own circumstances. This damn thing across my face? Well, something is better than nothing.
Here’s the thing I’m taking away from a brief encounter online, and it’s kind of simple. I need to check my ego more often, clean off my glasses, and ask more questions. I jump to conclusions way too fast, and when I do, I’m closing myself off to something that can help me become more compassionate and understanding.
While I don’t agree with some of their opinions, it was so refreshing having a simple, civil conversation with someone in a different yet similar circumstance. It was oddly liberating. When I opened up, took a chance, I learned something, and they had the words I was too afraid to explore.
So to you, if you happen to read this, thank you for taking the chance and writing your comment. You were open, vulnerable, and you took a risk sharing yourself with me. If nothing else, that deserves a lot of respect because it’s not an easy thing to do online or in person.
Thank you for trusting me with your experience and your fears. You taught me a valuable lesson, and I’m going to try to follow your lead. I’m checking my ego, trying to be more vulnerable, and ask more questions. If we all do that, instead of jumping to conclusions, then maybe we can have more nice things.