I am fortunate enough to live up in the hills of Los Angeles where there is lots of green and, for more than a brief moment, you can shut out the world and pretend bad things don’t happen to good people and that you, somehow, are exempt from bad things.
Granted, the pretend game doesn’t always work but in uncertain times, when you’re really in need, it is possible to will a more lovely reality into existence by simply opening your eyes and seeing what stands before you.
Not so much anymore.
Early this evening I took my dog Rosie for a walk and all I could see coming down two different hills and then up a third one were masks – lots and lots of colored masks.
Some were black, others were blue and still more had bright bold patterns. They were, of course, attached to human bodies of varied shapes and sizes and ages, all of whom seemed to have collectively decided to go on a hike or walk, or, more likely, on a specific trip to a well-known destination on top of one of the hills with one of the best views in the city.
Usually at least half of these walkers or hikers or solo fellow humans smile and approach when you have a dog, particularly a cute one, as Rosie will signal to you that she certainly is.
But that’s not what happened this evening.
This evening not only did Rosie fail to be a people magnet, she and I found ourselves part of a well-defined human obstacle course of avoidance. The second a mask, or several masks, spotted us, that’s how quickly they scurried into the road, or crossed the street, or looked down and turned away.
It was as if WE had the plague, rather than merely being two of billions of unwilling participants in one.
Over the last few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic now sweeping the globe, it was still possible to pass people at a safe distance with a smile or a nod or even an eye roll at the ridiculousness of our joint medical, um…situation.
But it’s difficult to recognize a smile when city law now requires that we wear a mask that covers our mouths or risk a hefty fine. Similarly, we’re being told on the news that we could be taking our life in our hands if we get close enough to any stranger we see in a road in order to give OR receive an eye roll.
These days we keep our eye rolls to ourselves, at least in public, and probably all the time. For what good is an eye roll anyway, if no one else can see it?
That’s like yelling at the TV when your idiot president is blathering on at a faux news conference about something he knows nothing about (Note: which is pretty much everything) and Lord knows none of us except me would spend even a moment of their normally allotted eye rolling time doing that.
It is interesting to exist in the outside world wearing a literal physical mask since so much has been written over the centuries about the imaginary masks we choose to show to others.
I don’t know about you, but at times it’s been confusing and downright appalling to learn just how many virtual masks existed out there and how unadept I’ve been over the years in realizing who was wearing which at what time and for how long.
More surprising is coming to realize over the decades that I’ve been as guilty as so many of those I’ve criticized. I mean, they felt convincing enough at the time – my masks of heterosexuality, of success, of endless good humor – despite the fact that they were about as representative of my inner truths as the president is of his at one of those aforementioned “press briefings.”
What was even worse was the knowledge, as I grew older, that the protective gear I thought was 99% effective at keeping my inner truths at bay to everyone else, was nowhere near that. These were quite inferior masks. Something more akin to washing your hands with icy cold water, sans soap or alcohol based disinfectant, after visiting a church service or synagogue on Easter or Passover in one of the nation’s hot zones of infection, and expecting it to somehow fool the virus and shield you from its infection.
In other words, not so efficient and not so good.
What is also not very good, but endlessly ironic and really quite efficient, is despite the fact EVERYONE will now be wearing actual cloth masks in public, it will be EASIER THAN EVER to recognize what’s really going on underneath them and the commonality of truth that we share.
We are all terrified, we all want this to end and we are all frustrated that no matter how we slice it or roll it around in our minds, we are not much different than the faceless person we stay six feet away from on the street as far as the virus is concerned.
Imagine, it’s taken everyone wearing a mask to realize we are all, essentially, the same. And in the same boat, or sinking ship, depending on what we choose to do from now on.