Recently, as I prepared to “go out into the world,” I had a unique experience. I gathered my hand sanitizer, car keys, purse and mask. I make the masks that I wear. I have several of them because my work responsibilities have called me into the Diocesan Office. After several hours of work there, the mask needs to be washed. These masks have different design qualities and have changed over the course of these weeks. I have found that the ones that tie behind my head and under my veil at my neck are usually the most comfortable. This time, as I put my mask on and headed out to my car, I could not help thinking, “Masks are our new normal? Really? Don’t we wear masks from time to time?”
The masks that I refer to are the ones that we hide behind. I pondered as I felt the cotton cloth against my nose and mouth, “Why am I so afraid of allowing others to see my true self or pretend that something is ‘ok’ when it’s not? Heck, I have hidden behind a mask in the past to hide pain and hurt! Somehow, for some reason, hiding behind it lessens the pain, at least for a while!’’
I came across a blog that describes the psychological masks that we wear. This blog lists 10 of them. They are: the cool guy, the humorist, the overachiever, the martyr, the bully, the control freak, the self-basher, the people-pleaser, the introvert, the social butterfly.1 The blog and the ones related to it really made me think about the psychological aspect of hiding and pretending.
But the mask that chaffed against my face, stifling the fresh air around me, is not a psychological wound. It is tangible, made of cotton, and as important as the keys and fob that live in my pocket.
At the end of the day, as I sat at the supper table, I put these ponderings to words. One of the Sisters who works in the COVID-testing tents at the hospital, testing individuals who might have the virus, chimed in: “I wear two of them and a plastic face shield every minute of the day as I greet the lines of cars entering our testing area. I have come to deeply appreciate even the air that I breathe! For me, this time has been a call to appreciate the little things in life. My focus is on the One who is greater than all the craziness! He is the one that I serve! He is the one that I point to as I work side by side with other health-care workers. The inconvenience of wearing all the PPE has turned into a personal sacrifice that I offer up for the ones who have no clue what sacrifice is all about. I saw a sign of an unmasked protestor in front of our capitol that said, ‘Selfish and proud of it!’ Really? That person is putting my life in danger.”
Quite honestly, as I listened to her righteous anger, my eyes filled up with tears and I said, “You and all your colleagues are truly heroes!” She quipped back, “I am no hero. I do what I do because I love stupid and broken people in the same way that God loves me!”
This made me cry even harder. Jokingly, we changed the topic of conversation.
The next day, I dropped some food at someone’s house. He came to the car. I opened the trunk and told him that the food was in there. He noticed I was wearing my mask. He said from a far distance away from the car, “Oh, you are one of those individuals who wears masks even inside the car.” In a firm tone, I informed him, “I live in a hospital community. I may be infected with COVID without even knowing I am sick with it. I wear the mask to protect you from me. I wear a mask because I love you.” He shook his head and thanked me for the food.
Why are so many individuals not wearing masks in public? According to CNN Health2, some think it infringes on their civil liberties, some think it makes them look weak, some find the guidance from the CDC confusing, and finally some it uncomfortable. I respond, “Yes, yes and yes!” In that same article, Dr. David Aronoff, director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of medicine, urges Americans to think of the mask guidance not as forced conformity, but as a necessary act of solidarity: “Wearing a cloth mask could stop seemingly healthy people from infecting others with coronavirus if they’re asymptomatic. “We’re all hopeful that this pandemic disappears,” he said. “Then we can stop doing as much risk mitigation. But for now, we really depend on the trust and kindness of others to protect our wellbeing. And that’s part of being an American.”
I bold-faced the last sentence on purpose. Think about it. The trust and kindness of others. When we truly own the trust and kindness of others we gladly let down the masks that we do not see and readily don the masks that have become common place in our world today.
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness
Courage and Masking
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