I rounded the corner at the grocery store not long ago and came across a woman who froze stock still. Her whole body became rigid, as if she had seen a fearful specter ready to drag her down to hell. She plastered herself along the opposite side of the aisle and stepped ever so gingerly side by side past me, all the while staring wide-eyed. Finally, she was passed me and safe.
I watched a masked woman running alone on a sidewalk near our house. She spied someone approaching in the opposite direction. She practically jumped out of the way, right into a busy street. Seemingly she would rather endanger herself with a car than her fellow man.
We have been told ad nauseam that masks do not protect us, they protect others from us, just in case we have the China Virus. We have these droplets in our mouths. we are told, that are loaded with poison. So, wearing a mask is just good manners—and patriotic to boot.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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But I see something else. I do not see good manners. I see fear. And it is not fear that we will poison others but that others will poison us. Our fellow man sees us as dirty, diseased, and he must do all he can to avoid us, including jumping into traffic. We must know the woman jumping into traffic is doing it for herself and not for others. She’s not thinking she has to keep her remotely possible Covid to herself. Rather, she must avoid the Covid coming at her in the guise of her fellow man.
What has happened in the Covid panic is that our fellow man has become a leper, just as of old. We must avoid him at all costs, lest we be poisoned with what he has. And the question becomes, Can we ever walk this back? Can our fellow man ever become our fellow man again? Will we ever be able to share a friendly smile, unobscured by a surgical facemask—or even an embrace? Will we ever shake his hand again?
To be sure, we are a messy people. A friend recently attended a fundraiser and said that, looking across the crowded room against the backlight of a setting sun, he saw a veritable shower of spittle flying through the air and landing all around. We have witnessed closeups of stage actors spitting out their lines: a germ-fest if there ever was one. And this doesn’t just happen to actors. It happens in everyday life.
Now we know (or we have been told) that the spittle flying at us is poisonous and may kill us and it is to be avoided at all costs. It is not good manners to wear a mask; it is for our very own survival, and the survival of mankind, which is threatened by our fellow man. He is a leper.
And so we order food through a mask and massive plastic walls to a person who is also masked, and maybe even gloved. Perhaps they have on one of those plastic face shields. After all, we are dirty and diseased, and we must not have any contact with our fellow man. Oh sure, we may nod, but is that a smile? Must we learn to smile with our eyes so folks will know there is a least a little fellow feeling? Don’t masked people look less than human?
And woe to those who contract Covid! Like the lepers of old, it must be a mark of their sins. Consider two cases: Herman Cain and Monsignor Charles Pope.
Herman Cain eschewed masks. He was pictured at a Trump rally in Tulsa chock-a-block with other non-maskers. Then, he came down with Covid and died. Oh, how they mocked him. He got what he deserved. He sinned the paramount sin of our age; he doubted The Mask. Do they think that Herman Cain would not have gotten Covid if he had only worn a mask, or do they believe he was punished for questioning the new article of faith? The latter, of course. This is a question of faith, not science.
Monsignor Charles Pope led a group of parishioners up on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. They paraded and prayed for racial healing. He had a mask in his pocket but was not wearing it when he came upon some other Catholics who were providing water to marchers on that hot Summer day just weeks ago. They offered masks, too. Pope declined a mask since he was drinking water, and he was therefore accosted by a tisk-tisking Catholic Karen who will go unnamed but who later wrote about it on Twitter. Oh, how she and acolytes tut-tutted about Monsignor Pope. She was especially peeved that he had recently said we should not live in fear of Covid. (Because of course we should live in fear! Right?) She was annoyed, too, that he led his flock to pray at a statue of Lincoln freeing the slaves. (Because the statue is racist, don’t you know?) See how it all fits together.
So, when Monsignor Pope came down with Covid, she and her friends were practically gleeful. Everyone knew he had sinned against The Mask, and now he had received his comeuppance. Shame, shame, shame.
It should be noted that along with the new catechism of the mask comes a certain moral superiority—a certain heightened virtue that maskers possess and happily flaunt. We are better than those maskless people. God, we thank thee that we are not like other men.
Again, the question becomes, How will we ever walk this back? How will our fellow man once more become our fellow man—someone we love and want to be with, even in close proximity? When will our fellow man stop being lepers to leap away from? When will they become once more children of God whom we may embrace rather than fist-bump? My fear is that something has happened—something drastic, something dramatic—something we may not be able to walk back.
When will our fellow man become our fellow man again?
Photo credit: Angencia Press South/Getty Images News