*NOTE* I realize there are groups who either cannot wear masks for health reasons (such as breathing issues) or do not feel comfortable wearing masks in public due to the color of their skin and the threat of racism that is so endemic to our culture. This message is intended for people who do not have to consider such unfair challenges each time they go out in public (or in some cases, just sit in their homes).
While life is full of opportunities to learn, on occasion we face significant moments that can dramatically reshape how we think about something. Sometimes we even discover a simple test that serves a tremendous service in revealing a person’s character.
The Covid-19 pandemic has provided countless situations like these. But the one that fascinates me most right now is the purpose of masks.
I’ll start with the first half of my above statement: the opportunity to learn. While this seems like such an obvious thing (and I feel a little stupid for not realizing it before), it wasn’t until quite recently that I learned the true purpose of medical masks. In fact, I always had it backwards.
I always thought masks were about protecting the wearer.
In discussing this with my wife, she mentioned that in normal times we most often encounter medical masks when we see a doctor interacting with a sick patient. She suggested that perhaps that played the key role in my thinking that it was about protecting the wearer: seeing a doctor wearing a mask around a sick patient seems to suggest it is meant to protect the doctor.
I think that definitely could be the root, but regardless of the reason for my belief, it was one of those mind-blown, epiphany moments when I realized (thanks to news coverage) the actual primary purpose of these masks: to protect others from the wearer.
While they provide a small amount of protection to the wearer, masks primarily prevent the wearer’s germs from reaching others. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. If I wear a mask but you sneeze on me, my mask is only protecting a very small part of my body from absorbing your germs. But if I wear a mask and sneeze next to you, almost 100 percent of those saliva droplets and the billions of germs they contain are caught by the mask material. You are protected from my sneeze.
Again, this is truly an obvious realization once, you know, I actually realized it. I am ever-thankful to reputable news sources and experts who can provide me with new levels of knowledge that I can use to improve myself.
Now with that realization, I turn my attention to the world around me and the fury over mask requirements being an attack on people’s rights. I’m not here to discuss legalities or even politics around this scenario, although unfortunately our culture has deemed that politics will rule everything.
Instead, I see this as a simple (and minimal) example of humility, decency, and selflessness. You see, if I go out in public and wear a mask, it’s not about trying to protect myself. It’s about trying to protect others from any germs I might potentially be carrying.
I’m grateful to have, at least to this point, exhibited no symptoms of Covid-19. However, I also know (thanks to scientific experts and reputable news sources) that it is quite common for someone to carry and spread the disease without showing any symptoms.
So if and when I go out in public for any reason, I have a simple choice to make. I can either wear a mask or not wear a mask.
Let’s face it, wearing a mask is not ideal. It’s not incredibly comfortable, it makes my lower face hot (especially as the temperature warms up) and the straps can wear on my ears. It even makes me the victim of my own bad breath. Finally, it covers up half of my beautiful face and my sexy #quarantinebeard, and let’s face it, that’s a loss for everyone.
In all seriousness, if all things were equal, I would choose not to wear a mask ever. But in the end, wearing the mask is, at worst, a minor inconvenience and discomfort.
Here’s the issue: all things are not equal.
Because everything in our culture is politicized, we’ve already seen the examples set by our president and vice president with multiple situations where they chose to publicly not wear masks in an effort to not appear “weak.” There has been all kinds of discussion about whether wearing a mask actually makes one look weak and the concern about setting an example. To be honest, what I’m about to say absolutely ties into the characteristics that Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked as “weak.”
They’re also repeatedly mentioned throughout the Bible as such things as the “Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and exemplified by Jesus and his followers. I’m talking about love, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, selflessness, and generosity.
You see, wearing a mask – especially for someone who has shown no symptoms – is an act of selflessness. It is an act of love to everyone they encounter, of generosity and kindness.
It is a humble act that says, “I wear this mask to protect you from anything I might otherwise spread that could harm you.”
It says, “My mild discomfort is an easy sacrifice to do what I can to keep you healthy and alive.”
It says, “This may make me look weak, but I wear it to keep you strong.”
It says, “I value your health and life and the health and life of everyone with whom you will come into contact.”
It says, “I care about my community and not just about myself.”
Prior to this experience, I would occasionally see someone wearing a mask in public, and I would always think they were a little weird. To be honest, I’d have a bit of a snide first thought towards them, that they must think they’re better than me and must be protected from me and others.
Perhaps that was their purpose. It was never my place to judge anyway, even though I did. But this experience has made me see from a new perspective. Moving forward, both in this pandemic and far off in the distant future when this is fully behind us, I will never see someone wearing a mask the same. I will instead see them as sacrificing their own comfort in a selfless effort to protect me and others from anything they might otherwise spread.
If wearing a mask makes me weak, it’s the weakness of a humanity that’s been struck by pandemic. The fact of the matter is that we’re all weak in this moment. We’re all at risk. Each day in our country alone nearly as many people die from Covid-19 (and this is only counting confirmed deaths) as the number of people who died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 – and that figure is expected to be exceeded each day by the end of June.
This is a whole new experience for all of us, and we all have different ideas on how best to handle it. I’m thankful for business that have made masks a requirement, but I am heartbroken that our culture is such that they have to take that step. It shouldn’t have to be a requirement; it should be something we all choose to do gladly in an effort to save lives.
Such a minor discomfort that can make all the difference, can literally be the difference between life and death for someone. That choice tells us a lot about a person’s values and priorities. It reveals their character.
I’m thankful for opportunities to learn something new, even when the realization seems so obvious that I feel quite stupid. Far more important than my personal feelings is the chance to make a minor temporary change to how I go about my life so I can do my own little part to protect others. Because I believe that all life – any single life – is worth the minor discomfort of me wearing a mask to protect others when I’m in public.
And I believe your choice to either wear or not wear a mask tells everyone around you all about your character and values.
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -2 Corinthians 12:10