My energy is so jangled, almost the first thing I did when I got home from the store was spill coffee on a leather-top table.
That’s not usual behavior for me.
Then again, I’m not sure what “usual behavior“ is for me anymore. I wonder how true that is for many of us?
I had three separate encounters this morning—before 9 o’clock—that felt iconic of the times.
In the parking lot at Trader Joe’s, I asked the woman at the adjacent car if she’d like me to take her cart back. She was delighted.
“And by the way,“ I said, “you don’t need to wear the mask outside.“
She nodded and took it off. An older face, short white hair, a beaky nose of great character. Not anybody’s little old lady.
I elaborated. “We only have to wear them when inside. Don’t give them any more power than they have!“ And I laughed so she could interpret it as a joke.
She looked right at me, and said, with a small smile of her own, “I’m not fighting it.“
I nodded acknowledgment and went thoughtfully on into the store, looping the mask over my ears and pulling it below my mouth, as I’ve been doing for months. Nobody’s said anything yet.
At the checkout, a hunched-over female employee with faded blue eyes said, “Can I ask you to pull up your mask?“
I smiled at her. “You can ask. I’m not sick, I won’t make you sick.”
She said, “I have a condition, that’s why I’m asking.“
“You know, the masks don’t do any good whatsoever…” I trailed off, not really wanting to launch a brief, pointless argument.
Another clerk started helping me bag. Uncomfortable silence ensued. In an effort to show goodwill, I said to the mask-enforcer employee,
“Regardless, you are a human being and I love you.“
Without looking at me she said,
“If that’s true, you would put on your mask.”
Quite the conversation-stopper. Black is white and white is black and never shall we agree which is which.
I feel it’s unfortunate when it appears people wholly believe the mainstream version of What Is and are deaf to hearing anything else. And she probably views me as a privileged person who doesn’t have to work retail—as she put it, “I have no choice, I have to be here.”
As soon as she could she stepped as far away from me as possible. I think I know how the lepers must’ve felt.
I wonder if I just witnessed the entire mask divide—and by extrapolation, the vaccine divide—in a five-minute encounter at Trader Joe’s.
Back outside the store I noticed Jesse the troubadour had set up shop: guitar case open to receive beneficence, a black folding chair supporting his wiry body and beautifully burnished guitar.
And…wearing a mask pulled slightly below his nose. What the heck?
I launched right into it. “Jesse, so good to see you! But what’s with the mask?”
“Oh, good to see you too…The mask? Because everybody’s wearing one?…“ He looked at me questioningly.
“You don’t need to wear it out here. Don’t wear it unless you absolutely have to.”
Regarding me steadily with his ethereal blue eyes, he slowly removed the mask and wadded it up in his tanned, tattooed hand.
“Whew,” he said. “Thank you. That’s much better.”
I spent ten minutes with Jesse, crouching down to be on a level with him. We talked of masks and mandates and vaccines. He doesn’t do Internet, so I briefly shared my understanding of what’s happening, why, and how it affects us.
I noticed while we talked, I looked intently into his eyes and he looked straightly back at me. By contrast, that fearful employee would not even meet my eyes. She seemed to shrink while totting up groceries at her register, almost as if something were crushing and crumpling her from the inside.
We can be undone by the fear of losing whatever is most precious to us. I’m reminded of Gollum, groveling and begging and scheming before succumbing to his preordained endtime. I’ve always thought it was his fear that killed him rather than an epic inner-mountain cauldron of fire.
The jangled energy has quieted a bit. The routine of unpacking groceries and getting breakfast for family brings things back to normal and calms me.
Thoughts have settled a bit, too. Now I can see just how extraordinary it was to have three such disparate encounters within the space of an hour.
Curiously, even though the people I conversed with seemed to have attitudes ranging from “open to listening” to “get away from me before you give me Covid,” I kept an even keel while experiencing their varied treatment of me.
I didn’t change my behavior to align better with theirs. The beaky old lady didn’t provoke me into saying, “You’re right! There’s no point in fighting.” The beleaguered clerk-with-a-condition didn’t guilt me into obediently drawing up my mask, though it would have cost me nothing and would have made her feel better, at least until the next mask-rebel customer hove into view.
Later, I second-guess myself. Would it have killed me to do as that clerk asked? She was genuinely stressed…too late now. I comfort myself with the knowledge that she’s going to have to deal with a maskless population someday (sooner rather than later, I fervently hope).
I’ve sometimes recognized myself as a chameleon. Going along to get along. Agreeing, or at least not disagreeing, to avoid arguments or worse unpleasantness.
Or if I did disagree, it was only because I was pushed past some limit which even my embedded “good girl” persona could not tolerate. Usually related to work, or relationship, or something that affected me profoundly.
Not whether or not to mask up “correctly” at the grocery store.
That diffident chameleon personality seems to have dropped by the wayside. Perhaps the enforced isolation of the past near-two-years assisted in that transformation.
The other possibility is that I just don’t give a flying fig what other people think of me.
After I hugged Jesse goodbye and trundled into the parking lot with my overstuffed cart, he called after me, “I love your rebel spirit! Keep it up. I love you, sister!”
“Thanks! I love you too, my friend!”
Rebel spirit. It sounds glamorous, flags and rearing battle-horses and swords drawn to defend Truth and Justice.
In 2021, maybe it means hanging up my chameleon costume for good, even though my stomach jitters as I stand my ground over something as ridiculous as whether a mask is under my nose (offering nobody any protection) or over my nose (still offering nobody any protection).
Ridiculous or not, it’s my rebellion, and I’ll embrace it wholeheartedly.