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Wearing a Mask Is an Act of Love

The only way we'll get through this is by protecting each other. Put on a mask.

Nastya Gepp / Pixabay
Source: Nastya Gepp / Pixabay

I sat in my car, parked outside the large pharmacy store. I pulled out the mask that I’d tucked into my right jacket pocket, and held it in my hands. I watched people going into the store. No one was wearing a mask. Not one person.

I put it on for a second, and then I took it off. It felt too awkward. I really wanted to wear it, I knew I should wear it. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing for everyone to do, under the current circumstances.

But it felt futile. What would be the point, if no one else is wearing one? I’m just one person. And not only that, but people would stare at me and I’d be “that” person again.

It's been bad enough, feeling like the “social distancing police” for the last couple of months as we all navigated our new COVID-19 world. As a medical doctor, I have an ethical responsibility to share essential public health messages. If a friend told me about social plans that they were making, that clearly violated the guidelines from our local health authorities, I felt obligated to gently remind them of those guidelines. It wasn’t fun, and more often than not people reacted with annoyance or indifference. This made me feel sad. Requesting that someone use Facetime for a few weeks to "see" their friends, for the health and safety of everyone around them, isn't that big of an ask, given what was at stake.

I put the mask back in my pocket, and went into the store. I was careful to stay far away from anyone, until I stopped to look at some stationary. A maskless store employee kept coming too close to me as she stocked the shelves.

“Six feet!” I reminded her with a smile. “Sorry, I’m a doctor,” I said. “I’m hyperaware of the importance of this.”

She stepped away and smiled back. “Thanks for the reminder, I appreciate it. It’s so stressful to come to work these days.”

I put my hand in my pocket and took out the mask.

“I actually brought a mask with me to wear, but I felt embarrassed, putting it on. No one else is wearing them. I wish they would.”

Her face lit up.

“Oh wow, thank you!” she beamed. “That means so much to me.”

She continued: “When you put on a mask, you’re doing it to protect me. You’re showing that you care about me and my safety. I wish more people did. Sometimes it feels like no one does.”

This was a bit ironic, since she wasn’t wearing a mask herself. But I hadn’t been either.

It was a profound moment. Her comment about feeling cared for, by people who took the extra “effort” (which is really so small) to wear a mask, touched me deeply. Tears come to my eyes, revisiting the moment.

It is such a simple, simple thing. To put on a face mask. There’s no significant cost in doing so. They’re not uncomfortable, especially if you only put one on when you’re in a public place.

If we had tons of data proving that non-medical face masks protect the wearer from COVID-19, we’d all instantly be wearing them (think back to earlier this year, when people were buying boxes of medical masks en masse and hoarding them). But no, they probably don’t protect the wearer much. They primarily protect others from us.

We are being asked to do something for the sake of others. And many of us are finding this stunningly simple action to be “hard”, or difficult to remember (“darn, I forgot to bring my mask along again!”) or even offensive. Because it does nothing for “me”. What a terrible statement about our society.

When we do something for others that directly benefits us, that’s always suspect. A lot of the time, it’s not about others at all. But when we do something for others that probably doesn’t benefit us, that’s love.

Ironically, wearing a mask does ultimately benefit the wearer, because it will presumably help to stop the asymptomatic spread of this awful virus. The more people wear masks, the better off we all will be (most likely). Despite this fact, we can’t seem to see past our teeny little selves. As I shared above, I haven’t been a consistent mask-wearing hero, either.

But I will do this, going forward. Even if it feels awkward, and people cast judgy or mocking looks at me. I’m going to do it.

Whenever I’m tempted to skip it, because that’s easier, I will remind myself of this fact:

Wearing a mask is a breathtakingly simple - and powerful - act of love.

Even if those around me don’t understand or care, I'm putting one on. Because in this crazy world we are living in today, it is one thing I can control. One thing I can do to help us all.

So I’m going to do it. Join me, will you?

© 2020 Dr. Susan Biali Haas