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Silver Learnings, Part 2, Masks

Silver Learnings, Part 2: Masks

In February I was on a flight from San Francisco to Chicago, and a guy across the aisle from me was wearing a very sophisticated-looking facemask. I don’t fly much, but I’d been following the news about COVID-19 closely since January, and I wasn’t surprised to see the precaution.

They were saying at that point that masks don’t really prevent the spread of the virus, but I certainly didn’t fault the guy for wearing it. An airplane has to be one of the most problematic places to be during an outbreak.

Still, I have to say, the mask provoked an ominous feeling in me, and it wasn’t just because it broadcast a reminder that there was a pandemic on the horizon. I couldn’t help feeling that my neighbor on the plane thought of me and everyone else on board as a threat, someone he needed to guard against, to protect himself.

Again, I didn’t fault the guy. But I’ve long had an unmistakable feeling of sadness whenever I see people in person or on the news (not just lately – any time) wearing masks in public – it strikes me as symbolic of an isolated and suspicious population, in which everyone sees everyone else as dangerous, like we’re no longer human beings to each other, but something more like a contaminate. A mask says, ‘stay away, you’re not getting me’

I know this is not what the people behind the masks are thinking, for the most part. But the thought comes to my mind whether I want it to or not.

All that said, I’m quite happy to share that my point of view on masks has changed in the past week, and it’s a change that’s brought real peace to my mind and heart.

The public health officials, of course, are now recommending the use of masks by everyone out in public (and I’m as irritated as anybody about the fact that contrary advice had been given previously), but the rationale for masks isn’t what my reflexive reasoning has always been. While a good facemask provides some protection to the wearer against infection, the greater value is in preventing people from sharing whatever viruses and germs they’re unknowingly carrying.

You wear a mask to protect the people around you, not just to guard against them.

This expansion of perspective is the kind of thing that restores my soul. With my old frame of mind, if I went to the grocery store and saw a bunch of shoppers in facemasks, I’d jump to the conclusion that everyone around me was leery and self-serving (even though I don’t want to think about people that way). But if I see the mask as a tool for caring for others, I can appreciate those same shoppers as community-minded people focused on the common good.

It’s the same piece of cloth and elastic, but the mask has changed from being an indicator of private protection, to a sign of mindfulness, generosity and goodwill.

Friends, whether it’s a mask or something else, what signs of these times have you been responding to in a spiritually impoverished way? It may be that a new perspective is making its way toward you, and you’ll soon feel much better.

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