Our Masks Will Be the Physical Artifacts of This Time
My Medium colleague Susan Orlean has written, movingly, about the unexpected pleasure of wearing masks during the pandemic, and I get it. I have never understood, regardless of one’s political persuasion or propensity to get immediately aggrieved, what exactly is so terrible about wearing a mask in the first place. They’ve made them very comfortable, they’re easily detached from your face, they don’t hurt, they have no side effects, and you really can breathe just fine with them: When I was in New York last month, my first trip there during the pandemic, I ran six miles across the Manhattan Bridge and back wearing one and was totally fine. The worst thing I can say about masks is that every time I saw someone wearing one, it reminded me, as if I could forget, that I was currently living through a pandemic. I can’t help but wonder if that’s why so many people truly did dislike them so much. Denial, or at the least living temporarily in an imaginary planet of one’s choosing, will always have its appeal.
I will confess, though, now that the pandemic is on the downswing in this country — and I do not mean to downplay what is happening in some other, less-vaccinated countries, but I’m afraid the only country I’m currently living in is this one — I am ready to be done with my masks. I am still wearing masks when they are required, and even sometimes when they are not. My general rule is that if the people working at the place of business I’m currently at, whether it’s a restaurant or a bookstore or a Home Depot, are wearing masks, I’ll keep wearing mine. But that’s for their benefit, not mine. I am fully vaccinated, and as far I’m concerned, one of the prime virtues of being fully vaccinated is that I can take my mask off and walk around the world without worrying that I’m going to get someone else sick. That has been my primary worry throughout the pandemic; I didn’t want to get Covid-19, but giving it to someone else was by far my worse-case scenario. Knowing now that I can’t do that, that I’ve made it through this without getting or giving Covid-19, is a massive relief. Not wearing the mask, in many ways, signifies that to me. It signifies that, in this circumstance, I can no longer hurt anyone. (I will also try not to hit them with my car.)