I’m walking into school today still wearing a mask. I admit that it’s largely for me. I have lots of reasons, though, and some of them actually don’t have to do with self preservation.
Let’s get those selfish reasons out of the way, first, though. I’m 61, and though I feel young, the calendar and the statistics show that I have some risks. So, in spite of the fact that most doctors say that COVID probably won’t send thrice-vaxxed folks to the hospital, I’d rather steer clear of the virus anyway.
Next, I have to confess to being a bit of a germaphobe. My daughter would say that’s an understatement, but I think that having worked in an elementary school for 35 years without a mask or a sink in my room, I must not be as germophobic as some. Still, I do sometimes recoil from a juicy sneeze or a “productive” cough. And if I ever hear that someone I’ve been close to has a stomach bug, I do become a very conscientious (compulsive?) handwasher. The pandemic has definitely exaggerated any tendencies I had toward a phobia. In the past I felt that swimming in the pool of elementary school germs every day actually boosted my immune defenses. I had antibodies to everything. However, after two years of mask wearing, social distancing, and downright reclusive behavior outside of school, I fear that I may have a lot fewer defenses built up. So, I’m deploying my manufactured defense.
Third, I’ve found a mask pretty easy to wear. Occasionally the straps chafe behind my ears, but I don’t really mind. I bite my nails less. My hands touch my face a lot less. I can forget to shave some days. I can sometimes make faces that I wouldn’t make publicly in the past. Those are side benefits.
To me, mask-wearing is not that big a burden, either. I was never that opposed to safety measures, even ones that bothered others. Seatbelts? Sure, why not? Bike helmet? Okay, I’m alright with that. Cup during a baseball game? Yes, please. Burgers medium well? Yeah, probably. Flu shot? Every year. I guess, to me, a mask isn’t all that different. A slight inconvenience with a significant benefit.
And then there are the others.
In school today, there will be people who live with an elderly relative. Maybe they don’t want me to share my germs with them. Also in school today will be some people with babies or toddlers at home. Those pre-vaccine-age kids deserve some protection, too. Maybe I won’t share my germs with them. I know some people who live with immuno-compromised family members or kids for whom a high fever presents a big risk. I’d rather not pass anything to them.
And then there are the kids whose parents sent them off to school this morning with instructions to wear a mask. Maybe it’s for their own protection. Perhaps it’s for the protection of a family member. Those parents may have given that instruction knowing that it would make their child appear different, less cool, or in some way risky. They may have known that it would be an unpopular statement. It might make their shy child stand out, their conflicted child uneasy. A fellow slicer, Kevin Hodgson, wrote that he’d be masking to show solidarity with those kids. I like that sentiment.
So, yes, I’ll be walking through the door in my familiar mask this morning. I’ll be uneasy about the increased number of germs in the atmosphere. I may feel awkward pulling up beside an unmasked student. I’ll be curious about the number of people who shed their masks. I may envy their confidence. I hope they’ll be okay with my decision. Maybe they’ll even be curious and ask me why I’m still wearing a mask, even when I have the option to take it off.
I’ll say, “I’m happy to share my reasons…not my germs.”