Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Impersonalization of Face Masks

 Illustration of a crowd of people wearing face masks.

When I visit big cities, the thing that strikes me the most is the loss of social connection—eye-contact; the quick nod between pedestrians as their shoulders by-pass; the pause to affirm the child with a toothless smile.  Impersonalization settles on busy cities like an invisible net, suppressing human warmth and spontaneity.  It breeds guardedness, suspicion, and fear.
            I really hate that aspect of the big city experience—I’m a people person.  I like to make eye-contact, spread the smiles, and comment on what I see.  Yet, behind the pandemic mask here in rural Idaho, I find myself acting in public like a city dweller.  My awareness of others is reduced to distancing and protocol.  The niceties don’t surface until I reach the checkout stand, and even that is awkward with steamed up glasses and muffled directions about scanning the card.
            It’s disheartening to not SEE other individuals in public, to not interact with people that surely are familiar.  I return from my infrequent public outings with an unsettled feeling that hovers just below the level of awareness.
             The sacrifice for safety is not a big deal; it’s temporary; there are many blessings to be counted in spite of it.  And yet if ignored, the subtle strain could morph into discouragement or depression.   I don't have a name for it yet, but just acknowledging it takes away its power.
            I pray this is not the new norm.  That superficial interaction I took for granted before--it creates community and I miss it.

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