I've been feeling a wide pendulum of emotions this week. At the beginning, I've had sharp pangs of missing humanity, especially, and perhaps strangely, while standing masked at a checkout line. Here's a secret: I'm an introvert who used small talk as a way to break out of her shyness.
I figured that chatting while shopping was a low-risk opportunity to figure out how to talk to people. Say a few lackluster lines, get a response, come back with another attempt at wit, get a blank stare or a laugh, and continue on with my day. Lather, rinse, repeat and learn. Thankfully, I'm lucky to live in a very friendly town where the decorum allows for it, unlike say New York City. There, I once had a Russian-accented airport cabbie tell me not to be so gullible.
Since then, I've amped it up by realizing that when you say things that most people are thinking but are unwilling to engage in — like asking a twin whether they have a psychic connection to their sibling — how well it goes. With some finessing, small talk is a way to create relationships from thin air. (And to weed out those who have a less-than-stellar sense of humor.)
As I watched the governor of New Mexico announce a requirement to wear a mask, I was one part relieved and one part worried. I have worn one for nearly two months after finding some old 3M masks in a drawer, back from renovating our fixer-upper home. I then transitioned to homemade masks made by the lady from whom I buy eggs. She also made masks for local first responders.
It felt like a no-brainer. This was a virus that had a taste for vulnerable people, and even though I am caked in the hubris of young middle age, I care for those in my family who are vulnerable and those whose vulnerability isn't evident.
Masks are delineating an obvious divide in how we view others. Do you err on the side of caution, understand your interwoven and interdependent role in society, and wear the mask anyway? Or do you believe that wearing a mask is one step toward an authoritarian state where compliance means weakness?
My mask doesn't protect me; I know this. It protects you from me. Because even with all the handwashing and handwringing, neither of us knows if we've fallen prey to an invisible enemy. When I see those with no masks, I debate whether they feel the same way about protecting me as I feel about protecting them. Do they think about our interdependence and wonder, "Who have I been in contact with?" I also think about whether they might believe that all of this is a hoax, which I've heard from family. That is almost more frightening than the virus.
We were once cautioned against letting terror win. Somedays, I think we lost that battle.
I remember 9/11 as a time where we all came together against an enemy that wasn't explicitly clear. It was even abstractly called a "war on terror." However, we stood united in the idea that we were unshakable, that we could be a part of something larger than what they had attacked, that we'd become something greater. It was in line with the dream of this country.
Then, it wasn't inconceivable for me to believe that those who I had never met meant something invaluable to the whole of who we are and what we belonged to. Now, I wonder, as I pull my mask on, if we're fighting a war on two fronts and if we could ever still be a united America.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.