Today I realized I haven’t really written about the pandemic. How odd. I suppose I haven’t had much time. Some people, I’m told, have taken up hobbies, worked out, read tons of books, learned a language, not me. I’ve taken up educating and entertaining my children 72-80 hours a week. I’m tired. But today, for the first time in I can’t even remember how long I am walking at my own pace, outside, alone. I control nearly the entirety of my environment. That is balm to my spirit and inspiration to my mind. It’s true rest even though I’m walking. I’m grateful for it.
My mask hangs from one of my wrists as I look around at the trees and mountains. The air is perfect today: warm, but not hot even when I’m walking briskly. I almost didn’t bring it. I’ll be outside and mostly away from people. With the occasional awkward sidestep to maintain distance, I could avoid having to use it. I already have gotten the vaccine and two weeks have passed anyway, so I’m really not at much risk anymore. Nevertheless I have brought it along.
It’s not long before I see some people coming toward me on the path their masks dangling from their wrists too. I debate for a few seconds whether to just scoot over or to put on my mask, then I do it. They both put their masks on as well. When I get closer the woman stops to thank me for putting it on and says she just never knows what to do, give a wide berth or put it on.
A month or so ago we were standing in the kitchen of the most vulnerable people I know, virally anyway. We were all discussing why we should wear masks after getting the shot(s). I posited that it’s not a scientific reason per say, more a social one. People who think they’ve had it but have never tested it will likely also go without masks if people around them are. People who haven’t had the vaccine will look around and see other people getting away without wearing masks and do it too. And that is what I’ve learned. I was right damn it. I concede that my loved experience and my perspective on it is heavily laden with conformation bias, but I’m still right. It’s in the words of the slightly-passed middle aged woman who thanked me just this morning. She just wants to fit in.
At my son’s soccer league game I see people get out of their cars with masks on or in hand, but as they see others not wearing them, they shove them in pockets until we are literally the only people wearing them. It’s not that they don’t give a shit about the virus. It’s that they give less of a shit about that than not fitting in. What’s up with that? You’d think that the isolation would leave us less concern with what other think about us, but somehow it’s united our consciousness in a strange way. All the time spent on social media to stay connected, coupled with the unfortunate timing of the pandemic arriving while we are most divided, has funneled us into convenient categories. Manageable categories. People who believe science, people who don’t. People who wear masks, people who don’t. Sheep and independent thinkers. It has in some ways heightened our tribalism. Perhaps because our collective lives are literally at risk simultaneously. Perhaps because our view of reality is almost completely fed to us through media. If it isn’t convenient, it’s not truth. If no one else believes it, it’s not truth. It’s a twisted reality when truth itself is determined by public opinion. It seems that we don’t know what to believe until someone else in our group tells us we should believe it. I think it’s because we’ve lost real connection with each other.
The timing of this pandemic and the use of media during it will likely change the landscape of the world and the world’s collective conscious. But me, my house, we’re only really concerned with what curriculum we’re going use and if my son will want to keep homeschooling indefinitely. Our world is still pretty small. And you know what. I’m okay with that. Unlike the majority, I’m actually caring less what other people think of me. Care and concern for my family and the way I raise my kids trumps my care of what other people think about it. Every time I wear a mask when no one else does. Every time I stay home or distanced when everyone else doesn’t. Every time I ask people to be careful before we visit. Every time I stand out alone and make a different decision I care less and less and less what my family, what the world at large will think. Having peoples’ lives in your hands can bring out bravery you never thought you had. That’s where I’m living right now.