Last Sunday, I spent three hours singing in a mask—one for a morning church service and two for an evening concert. The mask makes my glasses steam up and the tropical humidity during the concert meant I had a choice between seeing the conductor or wearing the mask. The mask won. Being surrounded by my fellow choir members all wearing a piece of black cloth over their mouths felt like a weird, dystopian dream. At the church service, a woman said to my husband and me, “I hope you’re not going to sing in those,” and we replied, “We are, and it will be fine.” She just gave us a look.
Before Covid and outside of an operating room, masks symbolized celebration. Whether worn by children trick-or-treating or adults for a Mardi-gras party, mask-wearing occurred in festive settings. Our masks let us pretend we were someone else, and we could whip them off whenever we wanted. The Lone Ranger and Zorro (I’m dating myself) wore eye masks in all of their mysterious, swash-buckling glory.
Now, behind my mask, I harbor a swirling and often, toxic, soup of emotions. I’m grateful for these miserable masks that rub my ears and steam my glasses because they help me to safely sing with others. But I’m also angry and frustrated that I’m back into my Covid shopping routine—pull into parking lot, mask up, go into store, come out of store, mask off, sanitize hands and repeat. The box of 50 masks I bought last spring that I joked about not using are now half gone.
As I write this, the musical organizations my husband and I are involved with wrestle with decisions about how to safely rehearse and perform concerts. There are more questions than answers, and I know those frustrations don’t begin to compare with what schools and businesses are facing. My friend who is a nurse in a local hospital told me that what’s she’s seeing is the same as last winter, if not worse, because patients are younger. A theater in our community posted that vaccinations would be required for admission to all performances. Some online comments were supportive, but most were rants about invasion of privacy and government “control,” and, as with any kind of Covid posting, accompanied by the ubiquitous laughing emoji.
Behind my mask, I am exhausted from pretending to be gracious and understanding of those who choose to ignore the seriousness of this virus, especially for our youngsters who cannot yet be vaccinated. Behind my mask, I’m saying don’t dare send me any more links and emails defending your right to make others sick, especially when those links manipulate scripture to support a political agenda.
Behind my mask, I seethe, because just when we were slowly climbing out of the pit of this pandemic, too many refused to reach for the helping hands offered to them, forcing us back into the muck. I ache for the medical professionals and the teachers and the store-keepers and the restaurant owners who must constantly deal with abusive anger fueled by politics, disinformation, and plain old selfishness. I grieve for those who have lost family members to the disease or lost relationships due to the bitterness of extremism.
My masks are back in my purse and my car and my choir folders. I will soon need to buy another box.