Social-Distancing and the Wearing of Masks
The latest buzzword by my lights is social-distancing. Honestly, it makes me laugh. The powers that be are recommending social-distancing as one of three strategies to slow the spread of the coronavirus at the same time as article after article in The New York Times laments that we are culturally in the midst of an epidemic of loneliness.
Beloved, we’re already socially-distant. How many real friends do you have? My definition of a real friend is someone who, if I called them using my one phone call from a jail in Peru, would they move heaven and earth to get me out?
One of the other two strategies to slow the spread of the virus is hand-washing, but not cursory, pro forma, hand-washing of the kind that tween children do to get ready for dinner. No, real hand-washing that really, uh, washes the hands.
This, it turns out, has something to do with the duration of the hand-washing experience. I’ve heard it recommended that we wash for two rounds of the most maligned song of all time, “Happy Birthday.”
I’ve also heard it recommended in circles of artistic literati that the length of a Shakespeare monologue will work as well. Pick your soliloquy, any soliloquy. Mine, since I have used it for decades as a mic check in more venues than I can count, is The Obedience Speech from The Taming of the Shrew. Fie, fie. Naturally.
The final of the three virus-slowing strategies is the wearing of masks. A friend who is particularly au courant on the world pandemic told me that in Singapore, Hong Kong, North and South Korea, and China, no one is allowed to enter the public transit system or a grocery store unless they are wearing a mask.
There’s an Op-Ed piece in The Times today that straight-up says that both the C.D.C. and the U.S. government have lied to us — straight to our faces — about the need to wear masks. Even for healthcare workers. The explanation for the lie is that there is a shortage of masks in the U.S. and that they are needed for healthcare workers.
Visual: The Scarecrow from Oz. Caption: The truth went thataway.
The same friend from New York City who is following the pandemic in the Far East received a care package of masks from his mother in San Antonio, Texas. He’s sending two up the Hudson for my husband and me to use. Our housemate had to go hunting masks at her job in a nursing home; they’d been confiscated and hoarded.
What’s so interesting to me is that the truth about the masks, and any sort of truths at all came out of The White House only after Britain’s dire prediction that the numbers of deaths in the United States would be massive. With all due respect, no, actually, with no respect at all, the Toddler-in-Chief only cared enough to speak to his constituency when his public image was in straight-up international interrogation, not because it was the right thing to do.
No wonder we’re lonely. We’re isolated from one another by our inability to trust what ought to be the most trustworthy, truth-telling institution in the world — the U. S. government.
This brings me to the real point of these words. The masks that we wear in lip service to social discourse are being torn off at a velocity that is breath-taking.
Being nice doesn’t prepare you for a pandemic.
Being nice doesn’t teach you the discipline needed to work from home.
Being nice doesn’t apply when you and yours are threatened.
Being nice doesn’t help you handle your fear.
Americans are notorious for being brilliant and kind during crisis. Witness, 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, school massacres. We are known for showing up for one another in wondrous ways. We go the extra mile, we take the extra step, we give a little extra.
That’s starting to happen now. In the tiniest of ways.
I have a standing hair appointment on Tuesday mornings with a lovely young mother who does a perfect job on my not-always-cooperative hair. I texted her this morning and cancelled my appointment, not because I didn’t want to go, I did, but because she’s got a six-month old baby, and I qualify as someone who has two of the vulnerabilities to the coronavirus. It was irresponsible for me to expose her and her young family.
The masks are off. Our fundamental fear of life is exposed, the same fear that the current administration has inflamed, manipulated, and exploited for as long as it’s been running for office. Fearful or not, alone and lonely or not, we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not.
The coronavirus is a true leveler. It’s just that some of us are more level than others, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw.
The Times article laments that because of the lie about the masks from persons in positions of authority, we the people have reacted as though they’re untrustworthy.
Because they are.
A client of mine called from Kenya yesterday in an utter panic. Her first question to me was: Isn’t the media over-reacting? That’s a direct result of the Gulliverian panorama of fake news that Fox and Facebook continue to spread in the name of free speech.
Of course they’re not overreacting. Not in the least.
So what’s to do here?
What’s to do is sit down with your own loneliness and become your own authority, and no, I don’t mean spend all your time on the Internet comparing widely disparate opinions from hugely divergent sources. I mean we have a unique opportunity to reset social discourse as we practice social-distancing, Beloved. Do you wish to spend the next however many years sorting out the fake from the true? I don’t.
We don’t have to be socially distant from ourselves. We have a chance, in this time of social quarantine, to sit quietly with our loneliness, to listen to it, to care for it, to love it, and to meet its needs with kindness and gentleness.
Spend time daily getting still, going within, and asking what’s true, what’s right, what’s real. Sit still — with your fear — and hold it like you would a scared child. That’s all your fear is really.
If enough of us get still, and listen for the voice of wisdom that lives within each of us, we might just come out of this not lonely, not fearful, not distanced, but instead reconnected, reformed, renewed, and with a magical new chance at a society we can be proud to call our own.
Oh, and of course, wear a mask.
And if you have an extra one, give it to a friend who needs it.