Photo by semen zhuravlev on Unsplash
Don't blame the masks. It's not their fault that we all feel so angry, so desolate, so alone right now. It's the disease that's to blame. It's the disease that is causing the need for the lockdowns; going without a mask is not going to change that.
In a year marked by unrelenting tragedy, it's easy to blame what we can see for our circumstances: blame the doctors who haven't found a cure, blame the leaders who haven't done anything to protect us--or blame the ones who try to. Blame the scientists, blame the "others", blame someone...anyone.
But no one is to blame. What's sad is that in the midst of so many losses this year--the lives of our neighbors, friends, and loved ones; the jobs we need to survive; the homes we live in; the freedom to continue as though everything were still normal-- the greatest loss of all may be slipping by with little notice.
That loss is the ability to say "Goodbye."
We humans have rituals that we have developed over millennia to help us process the deaths of loved ones. These rituals vary widely among different cultures, but they also share common threads. Whether the goodbyes are tearful in the face of our personal loss, or joyful in the belief of a better hereafter, practically all partings call for the gathering together of family and friends to share in our grief.
COVID has changed everything. Not only are we dying at unprecedented rates, but we are also restricted in our ability to come together to mourn. Sometimes local rules prohibit gathering in groups of more than ten or even less. Sometimes national transportation services have become harder to arrange or we might not have the resources we once did to pay for them.
Sometimes our beloved breathe their last in crowded hospitals that lack the staff to care for everyone, and sometimes we are prohibited from visiting by the rules put in place to protect those still living.
We feel angry at these restrictions and helpless at our inability to change the way things are right now. We count on the timeless rituals we have put in place to help us say goodbye to and let go of our departed. But when we are prevented from gathering together to share the burden of grief, we are left to face that burden alone.
We are left with feelings of guilt and rage and sorrow that we don't know how to process. Such feelings must have an outlet and so we drink, we fight, we destroy, we rampage. Some of us fall into bottomless pits of depression that lead us to harm ourselves instead of others. And again, no one can reach us to pull us out.
What we need to do is change our focus to our common enemy. Our enemy isn't masks or leaders who call for restrictions to flatten the curve. Our enemy isn't each other.
Our enemy is the virus that causes COVID-19. It's a tiny enemy, invisible to the naked eye. But it is very real, and it is where we need to put our attention, our time, and our determination right now. Enough with our divisiveness, our partisanship, our stubbornness.
It's time to band together, Americans. Like we did after 9/11. Like we have against other enemies foreign and domestic.
COVID may have stolen our rituals for saying goodbye for now. Once we have kicked its ass, we can again come together and celebrate our victory.