The battles between those who want to wear masks and practice social distancing versus those who demand their right to choose how they will or will not protect themselves from Covid-19 rage on daily. Sadly some of the commentaries have devolved into schoolyard insults and taunts reminiscent of my years as a middle school teacher. While I am willing to accept that people have differing points of view, I can’t quite wrap my head around the behavior of those who shove, spit and threaten anyone who is attempting to follow the recommended and sometimes imposed safety guidelines. What is even more concerning to me are the insinuations that the procedures have only been enacted in order to defame President Trump and lessen his chances of winning the election in November. The chorus of thoughtless chants urging those who are” scared” to just stay home has irked me beyond my ability to continue to ignore them. Instead I feel more and more compelled the issue.
Let us suppose that there is a woman who faithfully goes to work each day to support her family. She has children who have not been in school for some time that she leaves in the care of her husband who lost his job in late February. Sadly he worked in the oil and gas industry tanked just at the moment when the pandemic reached worldwide proportions. It is now up to the woman to keep food on the table and pay the bills. She is quietly stoic as the world appears to be crumbling around her. She doesn’t sleep well at night and conditions at work do little to lessen her anxieties.
Unfortunately the woman has a number of underlying health issues that worry her, so she wears a mask to work and brings gloves to use when she comes in contact with things that others may have also touched. She keeps disinfectants in her desk for when she must use the office bathroom. She is exceedingly careful because she knows that if she gets sick with Covid-19 her family will be in impossibly dire straits. She does not have the luxury of taking risks.
The other people in her office have become convinced that the whole pandemic is a hoax cooked up by fake new and democrats. They gather together in groups without regard to social distancing, never wearing masks or gloves. They often disregard the woman’s obvious attempts to limit contact with others by getting way too close when they come into her office or pass her in the hall. They bring members of their family with them to the work making the environment even more crowded than it should be. They leave during the work day to eat lunch in restaurants or to run errands at the mall. They boast that when they can get away with it they toss their masks aside. They look at the woman wearing her mask as though she is a silly goose, a paranoid mindless sheep.
The woman knows how her fellow workers feel and sometimes wonders if she is indeed paranoid. Then she thinks about her situation and sticks with her determination to be safe. Not only does she have underlying health problems but so does her husband and one of her children. She is also caring for elderly parents. She knows that she has to be vigilant.
The woman wishes that her coworkers, her boss, and the rest of the people around her were taking Covid-19 more seriously because she is genuinely worried and realizes that nobody who is boasting about being unafraid is going to help her if she does somehow get sick. She is on her own.
She hears the people in her office chattering about the push to extend unemployment benefits beyond July. They sound like parrots as they insist that doing such a thing will only encourage people to stay home rather than accept a job and go back to work. She wonders where all of these jobs that will be offered to people like her husband will come from. He has been spending many hours every single day for almost three months now searching for work. So far he has had only one interview for a position thousands of miles away. In a normal time people would be recruiting him. Now he struggles to find anything and knows that he is competing with thousands when he does find a match to his degree and his experience.
The woman sits quietly in her office faithfully completing her work and feeling profoundly sad that there are people who have taken the liberty of misinterpreting the situations of countless Americans rather than attempting to understand them. She has no problems with the idea of opening up country but she would like to see it done in a way that does not cause her so much worry. If only they would wear masks when they are all gather together or when they went out in public. It is such a little thing to request, not all that inconvenient.
She feels so very alone as the office sounds as though it is the site of a party. She knows that the others think she is strange. She actually hopes that they are right that we will all be fine, but something tells her that they are wrong. She has to pray that God will protect her in spite of the risky behaviors of her colleagues. She is the last hope for her family and the July deadline of increased unemployment benefits for her husband is on its way. She cannot get sick!
I do not understand why people find conforming to the needs of the common good to be so contemptible. Why are there so many inaccurate and judgemental conclusions being drawn about those who want to be precautious? Why can’t we Americans come together in a sense of compassion and responsibility? Social distancing and mask wearing are not tyrannical attempts to deny us of our basic rights. They are an effort to protect one another. While they may be imperfect methods for making us safe, they are better than doing nothing at all.
As we go to work, walk through stores, go back to old routines we should bear in mind that there are many people like my hypothetical woman. They desperately need kindness and a sense that people care enough about them to make an effort to keep them safe. Honor them by cheerfully wearing a mask and staying six feet away at all times. Don’t make fun of their precautions. They know best what they need. Sometimes we must look beyond our own horizons and take action not because it is defined or undefined in the Constitution, but because it is the kind thing to do.