How do we define “love” in the age of masks and exhaustion? | The Best Samaritan with Jamie Aten and Kent Annan
No one who sees me jump in my turquoise Doc Martens boots, ride my dazzled bike with handlebar banners, or ride my jazzy orange Honda Fit covered in yellow daisies, sighs and thinks, “Well, that girl really likes to blend in.” the mass. “
No, I proudly identify as a non-conforming person.
And yet, as someone who has been rigorously vigilant to stay safe and keep others safe during this pandemic, I recently contracted COVID-19 as a direct result of the subtle natural human urge to comply.
Like so many others, I have been a staunch warrior of the pandemic. When we were told to stay home, I stocked up on toilet paper and stayed home. When the expert nurse on YouTube modeled how to wash the packaging of every grocery item that came into the house, I washed my groceries. My family avoided visiting my elderly mother who lives nearby. When we were allowed to come back in public with masks, I masked myself. I was vaccinated as soon as I was eligible. When masks were no longer compulsory in church, I kept mine. And at 52, I was within days of becoming eligible to receive my booster.
I did all the things.
Until I don’t.
Last Saturday I walked up to the house where a post-funeral reception was being held to celebrate the life of a friend’s mother. Stretching my black mask over my face, fixing it behind both ears, I let myself in through the front door to join the mourners. I walked over to the fried chicken on the buffet table, made eye contact with my twenty-year-old son, and quickly found the friend who had lost her mother. As I had arrived quite late, the house was not packed. The living room, kitchen and dining room were dotted with family and friends who lingered shortly after I arrived. I joined the grieving girl who introduced me to another friend who had come to support her.
As we exchanged polite little conversations, I began to notice that no one else in the house of strangers and acquaintances was wearing a mask. I was the only one.
If I had seen a room full of masked mourners, I would never have considered dropping my mask. And yet, as I thoughtlessly lowered it to speak to my grieving friend, something more powerful than my sanity and common sense was at work.
Psychology Reports TodayAs much as most people like to think of themselves as unique individuals, in reality humans are social beings – and for the sake of group cohesion, people are driven by evolution to fit in. This usually means copying the actions of others, looking at the group when deciding how to think or behave, or do what is “expected” on the basis of widely accepted (though often unspoken) social norms.
Apparently, it’s easier to be nonconformist on the freeway than in a friend’s kitchen.
Because I knew intuitively that it didn’t feel right to be unmasked in a strangers room, my mind had to fill the void to justify my decision.
“Maybe they know something that I missed because I arrived late?” Maybe the hostess announced that everyone present was vaccinated? “
“My son is pretty smart. If he’s not masked, it must be fine. He knows things.
“Did the CDC change the recommendations and I didn’t pay attention?” “
But while I am flawlessly honest, that natural human part of me that quietly – perhaps even unconsciously – seeks to comply felt that keeping my mask on would be interpreted as judgment. Coarse. Even without love for the grieving family.
See what I did there? Wanting to justify my choice – which was motivated more by conformity than any truly noble motive – I reframed it as the “like” option. To convince myself that what didn’t seem quite right to me was right.
Four days later, I tested positive for COVID-19. When I told my son about it, he said he learned that someone else at the funeral had also tested positive. And then several other people related to someone zero earth. And then someone else. And while the hostess now feels horrible that she didn’t forbid an unvaccinated parent to attend in the first place, I don’t blame her.
She is in mourning.
We are all tired.
Most of us have done our best.
We are overwhelmed. And maybe mourning.
I just want to testify to remind a person not to drop the mask and “be polite”.
If this middle-aged mom who wears a nose ring and drives a daisy can be forced to comply, anyone can.
Fight the power. Be careful.
Margot Starbuck, New York Times bestselling writer and award-winning author of over 20 books, is a graduate of Westmont College and Princeton Seminary. Margot has been involved in over 100 major publishing projects, serving publishers as a writer, collaborator, ghostwriter, editor, and word coach.