My apologies to John Cleese, Eric Idle, et al. but now that we are just about ready to release the beast, the invisible viral one and the real human one, I feel compelled to lay down a few ground rules of engagement before we possibly cross the “Bridge of Death.” With the “invisible scourge,” the “hidden menace,” or whatever our ‘leaders’ call it marginally reeled in, the noodgy amongst us are clamoring for freedom. We have been locked up for months and people want out. I get that but, without sounding preachy, why the hell would I want to undo months of seclusion and germ suppression because I feel compelled to socialize? I have been careful, and admittedly a little neurotic, but I have stayed away from everyone. And I mean, everyone. I respect our first responders, our mail carriers, our delivery people, and all of those who have stuck their necks and immune systems out there on my behalf. I wear a mask in public, I wash down my grocery deliveries, and I stay the hell in. And honestly, I kinda like it.
I guess I’m wrong to expect the same of others. My bolder friends and family have braved the grocery stores, banks, and post offices over the past few months. I, on the other hand, have braved the jungle of Amazon, Whole Foods, and Drizly deliveries. But now it’s time to dip my toe into the potentially COVID-19 polluted waters and I am wary. With no real answers about contagion, immunity, and virus mutation from our leaders, am I being foolhardy to think that I can count on my fellow man to be as vigilant as I have been for the last ten weeks? From what I have seen so far, I worry that my fears are justified.
Yesterday, I allowed people into the inner sanctum of my pristine and germ-free bubble that is my home. Actually, I lie. My backyard was as close as they got. The earlier guests wore protective face coverings. Our evening guests did not. Even so, I know that each of them has been in contact with others who may be asymptomatic carriers. And now, my Coronavirus-free world is tainted. I toy with the idea of another fourteen-day decontaminating quarantine. To counteract my crazy, I pull myself together, striving to impose rationality on my run-away imagination.
Irrationality comes in many varieties. When I think about the way Coronavirus spreads, I am reminded of the 1970s era commercial for Faberge Organics shampoo. The catchy “and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on…” effectively illustrates the exponential capabilities of the virus; hence, I wear a mask in your presence. I ask you to do the same. Others take it to another level. Think of the people that you confront on a walk down the street, both of you masked, yet that person darts across the street to avoid you like you are Typhoid Mary or Patient Zero. Far be it for me to judge, I see the point, even though the reaction is a bit extreme. Then, there are the others, like the callous, mask-less runner who passes you just a little too closely, their particulate invisibly assaulting your mucous membranes. This variety of human strives to prove a distrust of government, the media, the medical community, or just humanity by endangering others as they exercise the right to unencumbered mask-free breathing. Even if I am over-interpreting their intent, not adhering to our new world order is just ridiculous and honestly, rude. (But then again, hasn’t rude become the norm? That’s a topic for another Mami…)
Today is the ‘day after’ the day of the visitors and I am riddled with guilt. While we employed social distancing as a group and our gathering happened outside on our patio, I fear that some of our behaviors mocked the hard work that we, or at least I, have mastered in these weeks. I served my guests in small servings by couple. I began our visit with a mask at the ready, as did my husband, but we were lone wolves in our small group of six. Self-conscious, I let down my guard and my mask. Although no one said anything, I had a sense that, by my guests’ standards, I was overreacting. I wonder if this is what we can expect in the months to come-perceived peer pressure and public shaming for being cautious. With my friends, I sensed judgment. We are Democrats. They are Republicans. Our levels of caution lay clearly on either side of party lines. It was unsettling.
I’d like to think that I’m a bit more enlightened than the average non-believer in the threat of COVID-19. I watch PBS NewsHour, not Fox News. I am not terrified. I am informed. And I draw conclusions without politics. I listen to scientists like my dear friend, an epidemiologist who locked herself down in February. She saw what was coming and she didn’t wait for the ‘ok’ from the government to hunker down. She took matters into her own hands then and continues to declare that it will be a long time before all is well again. I believe her. And to visit with her, I use Zoom, and no one gets hurt.
Since most of my friends fall into a certain age group, not quite sixty-five or older but not that far off, I take the advice of experts very seriously. I don’t want to get sick, or pass on the virus unknowingly, and I’m pretty sure that a switch is not flicked at 65 making one more vulnerable. COVID-19 doesn’t ask to see my birth certificate. And I was one of the unlucky H1N1 victims ten years ago. Getting that kind of sick is no fun, whether one has pre-existing conditions, or not, or is a member of the ‘older than dirt’ category, officially or unofficially. It all sucks.
But I can’t stay in the house or my yard forever so I need every assurance that the people with whom I choose to interact are logical, sensible, and cautious. As for my “questions three,” I tear a page out of the Bridgekeeper’s book of interrogation from The Holy Grail, except my questions are a little different. I ask if you value your fellow man by wearing a mask for their safety. Next, what is your quest? My quest is clear-to stay well and not infect my family and friends, or any human being with whom I come into contact. Another question: Do we need to agree upon a set of expectations before we gather so that there is no confusion? Maybe then the rules will be clearer, at least in our small universes.
But maybe there is one more question that begs to be asked. Is it your rational mind, your need to buck those in positions of authority, or your political affiliation that drive your decision making in the time of Coronavirus? Yes, we are tired of social distancing and some of us believe that the threat is overblown. Some of us don’t even believe there is a threat. Some of us follow the rules and trust the experts. In any case, your answer will help me to decide whether to have the Black Knight throw you into the ‘Gorge of Eternal Peril’, or choose the less violent self-preservative option, which is to continue my self-imposed exile. I may not like your answers to my questions but the choice to loosen the restrictions is mine and yours. Please don’t take it personally. We can agree to disagree. As for me, I will come out of my isolation again at some point but for now, I will choose my outings wisely and hope to stay well. The world, albeit a little different, will be there when I’m ready again to cross that bridge without fear.