2020: The year they stole the smiles
COPYRIGHT 2020 Debra Littlejohn Shinder
Over on yahoo!life, Matt Schneiderman tells us It’s OK to yell at strangers who don’t wear masks. Even more disturbing, a Facebook user in a public post recently equated not wearing a mask to driving drunk and proposed that the legal consequences — i.e. prison — be the same.
Of course, The major fallacy in his analogy is that mask laws presume that everyone who goes out in public has the virus, when in reality only a small percentage of the population has been infected. Even the highest estimates range from 15-20%. We don’t presume that everybody who gets behind the wheel of a car is drunk and arrest everybody who dares to drive “just in case” they might be drunk. And THAT is the accurate analogy for imposing such draconian punishment on those who don’t wear a mask.
Unfortunately, the social media user mentioned above is not unique in his opinion. We have rapidly moved from public shaming (i.e. bullying) of those who don’t buy into the muzzling of the population to calling for them to be jailed or even killed. Violence against people without masks — even in circumstances where they aren’t violating the local laws (for instance, they meet the medical exceptions criteria or they’re in an area such as outdoors where it isn’t mandated or they’re practicing social distancing) is growing in frequency and degree.
Even the president of the United States has been shamed for not wearing a mask, with many members of the party of tolerance and love decreeing that he deserved to catch the virus and when he did, joyfully proclaiming that they hoped he would die.
The animosity is not one-sided. There have also been violent reactions from those who were ordered to wear a mask or turned away from locations for not having one, or lectured by strangers as to what they “should” be doing. People on both sides of this issue are very, very angry and an already divided country is being further torn asunder over face coverings.
Meanwhile, the “expert” guidance has been less than helpful. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in March said there was no reason people needed to wear a mask, has now changed his mind (again) and is urging state and local leaders to “be as forceful as possible” on masks. The CDC has also done an about-face and now claims cloth face coverings — which only a couple of months ago were useless to block tiny viruses — are now “a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19.”
The World Health Organization’s stance in March was:
• If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus infection.
• Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing
In June, WHO reversed that position and got with the political program aimed at symbolically “shutting our mouths” and silencing our questions and criticisms of the handling of the pandemic response. And it just gets worse and worse. Now most states either have governor-issued edicts requiring the wearing of masks in public places (some even outdoors) or allow local
tyrants officials to force mask mandates on businesses and/or individuals.
Yet if we look back at the studies and medical literature written before Covid became a political issue and masks became a religious symbol, we find little to no evidence that mask-wearing protects against viruses, as I’ve discussed in previous blog posts.
But this post isn’t really about that. It’s not even (only) about the mask mandates. It’s about the way our “leaders” (rulers) have used the specter of the pandemic to suck so much of the joy, spontaneity, and even love out of our lives.
I’ve never been a big fan of “shopping” — the frenetic hunt for the perfect something on which to spend money, which seemed to be a favorite pastime of many women I knew. But I did enjoy occasionally just walking around in the malls, people-watching, window-shopping, soaking in the energy of the crowds and the festive atmosphere, especially at holiday time.
Now I hate going to a store. Instead of a throng of smiling, laughing faces, all you see are eyes – many of them frightened and darting, many of them visibly angry, and maybe worst of all, many of them eerily blank – above the masks.
Their mouths are covered so it’s hard for them to speak or to hear/understand the words of other mask-wearers, so most don’t even attempt to say “hello” or strike up an impromptu conversation with a stranger anymore. After all, you’re not allowed to get close enough for that, anyway. Their noses are covered, so it’s hard to breathe, and many are focused on struggling to get enough air or unable to focus on anything since they’re too light-headed from the oxygen deprivation.
I can’t imagine how different Christmas will be this year in public venues. Can’t have little kids sitting on Santa’s lap for photos: they might catch or transmit the virus. And with so many little ones already a little scared of a big old man with a white beard, just think about how much more scary he’ll look to them in a mask. Which doesn’t work with a full beard, anyway.
Perhaps more people will just stay home with their families to celebrate the holidays this year, and maybe that will be a good thing. Or maybe not. As every cop knows, the holidays are a prime time for an increase in domestic disturbance calls, and one of the reasons is families cooped up together with relatives with whom they don’t see eye to eye.
Let’s face it: many of us have had a little too much familial togetherness this year already. I wonder how many marriages have suffered or even broken up because of the pressures of being in the same house with the same person 24/7 for months on end.
I guess it’s a testament to the strength of our relationship that my husband and I only get irritable and snappy every now and then. But then, we’re used to both of us working from home and neither of us going much of anywhere all week, sometimes for a couple of weeks in a row. I have a feeling that some of those couples who were used to going off to their separate workplaces five days a week and pursuing their separate weekend interests may not be faring quite as well. And what about all the poor kids who are caught in the middle?
I think the majority of married people, particularly those who are introverts by nature, need some alone time now and then. We used to accomplish that via Tom’s forays to the horse races and my solo cruises and occasional lunches with friends or relatives. Now we go almost nowhere other than out to eat on the weekend, together. And while I love that time we spend in each other’s company and count it as one of the silver linings of the Covid Cloud under which we live, the everyday all-day togetherness sometimes creeps up on us and we find ourselves criticizing or reacting to the other over small and silly things.
I guess the flip side is that this crazy year of near-isolation has brought us closer, I think. We’re both quicker to recognize that our irritability is really about our own frustration, not the other person’s fault, and we’re quicker to apologize and let it go than we used to be. So there’s that.
They say that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and the petty tyrants who are suddenly in control of so many aspects of our lives have thus far left us alive. And where there’s life, there’s hope. So we have built on that hope, creating an environment in which it is at least pleasant to “cocoon” for however long we have to.
Since we can’t sail off to Caribbean resorts, we’ve turned our own backyard into our private resort with the money we’ve saved not traveling. Since most of the restaurants in the area require you to don the mask on the walk from door to table (one of the genuinely most ridiculous rules of the many examples of Covidiocy that abound this year), we’ve pledged our loyalty and our money to the one that doesn’t and now enjoy the status of “regulars” who are greeted with big unmasked smiles when we walk in the door.
As we work our way through the stages of grief over all the loss this year has brought, from denial to anger to depression, I think maybe unlike the process that follows the death of a loved one, this peculiar exercise in coping with the formerly unthinkable may culminate in a different end game. Or maybe it’s just a matter of semantics.
Acceptance doesn’t have to mean giving up. It doesn’t have to mean giving in to this “new abnormal” and embracing it as the way things have to be. To accept also means to receive, to attain, to tackle, to affirm, to undertake a transformation. In this case, a transformation of self not into a sheepish, compliant, beaten and broken slave to the system but into a stronger, bolder, more self-reliant and more powerful person.
Adversity can work either way: it can be the wedge that drives people apart or it can be the glue that holds them together and gives them common purpose and drive – as a couple, as a community, as a country, as a political movement. I think we’re seeing that begin to happen.
And in defiance of the ones who tried and are trying so hard to steal our happiness, we can and do find new reasons and new ways to recapture the joy. We are speaking up. We are standing up – refusing to kneel before their false idols and refusing to worship at the altar of their new religion. We’re ripping off the masks and showing our faces proudly. We are reclaiming our smiles.