Mask On, Mask Off
Do I need a mask for that?
Our question du jour tells us how long our COVID-19 recovery has come.
Longer still, the answer ever more consistently is coming out “no.”
I, for one, wish to bid a fond farewell to life behind the face mask.
Of course, I could live with one fewer three-ply layer as much as the next guy. And judging by that next guy—his mask forever coming up only to lip level, his nostrils poking through into the outdoor air like a Himalayan peak—he has long been ready to shed that layer.
I don’t enjoy the near constant breath status update, nor the actually constant anxiety to freshen that breath up. Big breath mint has been laughing to the bank long enough!
But I still will miss looping on my six-month-old, one-time-use hospital mask. Miss it like I’ll miss part of myself, a powerful part of myself.
I’ll miss my superpower.
In 2010, the famed pollsters at Marist University finally took up a question central to American life: “Which superpower do you wish you had?” I guess one of those comic book movies came out back then?
Regardless of your opinion on big muscle, big ticket, big full-costumed-Comi-Con-ticket-holder movies, you certainly have an opinion on your preferred superpower. Everyone does. And at plus/or/minus 3 points everyone wants to fly. Or read minds. Or time travel. Or teleport.
I’m not too big on heights. I distinctly do not want to know what I already suspect you’re thinking. I enjoy indoor plumbing. And teleportation just sounds a bit too messy—what’s the warranty on all those pixels really making it over every time? No thanks.
My power ranked last on the list, only slightly above the blandly Midwestern selection of “Unsure.”
I’ve always wanted to be invisible.
Ok, that’s a harsh sentence construction. More like a cry for help than a blog post hook. But, really, invisibility presents many advantages to a “within normal limits” mind, which I assure you I have.
Invisibility would be great. Never pay for food again. Never be trapped at that dinner party again. Never sit in the Superdome rafters or on the outside Jazzfest track or behind a sea of Endymion ladders again.
Basically, I’ve always just wanted to be the Times-Picayune Lagniappe section. Life as a perpetual WYES “Steppin’ Out” segment sounds super to me!
So I wasn’t completely upset when we entered into our societal invisibility pact last Spring. Everyone wears a mask. Meaning no one is completely recognizable. Meaning we’re all kind of invisible. Meaning, wait, I thought free food was involved.
My cloak of invisibility was most felt when I went to church. It’s also when I most needed it.
Last July, I went from priest to parishioner in a span of a day. And I’m not sure I could have done it without a mask.
I like going to church, not so much the leading of worship, but the communal ritual, the quiet, the daily invitation to grow or change or just be a little less stupid. But how do you explain all that to every person you encounter, to every loose connection, to every faint recollection? Adding the masking ritual to my introductory rite helped eliminate some of that. My baptism into invisibility. My sacramental, six-foot bubble. All from that surgical mask.
Or so I thought.
Perhaps it was because the median age at any daily Mass qualifies for an AARP card and a presidential nomination. Perhaps it was because I’m a bit over-confident in my Catholic calisthenic movements. Or perhaps, just perhaps, it was because I was attending church at the next parish over from my last assignment. Whatever the case, the mask didn’t seem to be really working. Sure, it was stemming the spread of that virus some, but what about the invisibility I was promised, Fauci?
One Sunday plainly showed me I was just in the Emperor’s new mask, naked above the nose. Shortly after January’s presidential inauguration, I noticed a woman decked out in bright pink and lime green. Fashionably challenged though I am, something registered that this wasn’t a regular color combination.
Of course! AKA colors, a not so subtle celebration of Vice President Kamala Harris. People’s passions always intrigue me more than their politics, so I paused after the final blessing to congratulate the communicant on having her sister bring a Black sorority into the White House.
Mask firmly attached, I spoke up only so she could see me. How else could she possibly? I was invisible, after all.
After some brief pleasantries, she introduced herself. Hesitantly, I returned the gesture. “Well, church lady, whose name I can no longer remember due to my current visibility panic,” I thought. “I’m Peter Finney,” I said.
“Oh, I know. I saw you when I came in. I know who you are.” Damn you and your supposed invisibility shields, Fauci!
It turns out I was a bit more visible in reality than in my delusions. But the mask-wearing delusions were more comforting, more interesting, less mentally exhausting. Delusions can be that way, convincing me now to even look back fondly on all the K-95 chaos.
A mask may not have brought me the invisibility power I hoped, but it did bring me a degree of order, reducing both Covid generally and Church-related dangers personally.
Do I need a mask for that? No, not anymore.
Way back when, mask wearing was a metaphor, not a medical device. For the more metaphorical purpose, masks in Greek theatre serve as the cultural through line. Learn more about the historical treatment.