My family has been very fortunate during this pandemic. My husband I both still have work, we have a comfortable home and our kids did well with home schooling and being at home. Being at home and not rushing around has been great for a home body like me. All things considered I am so lucky. I don’t take that for granted.
I also consider myself privileged to live in a place where mask wearing is not considered a political issue and that there seems to be bipartisan support for this public health measure. However, the one thing I am really struggling with in this pandemic is the mask wearing. Yes, they are uncomfortable, and my face sweats in ways I never knew it could, but that is not the challenge.
Every time I walk out my house and head to my local shopping strip I feel like I am in a parallel universe and that at some point everyone will stop, remove their mask, point their finger at me and say “the joke is on you”.
For me, it is disconcerting to see everyone reduced to looking identical, with the only way to show your personality being the design of your mask. I have become acutely aware of this “oneness”. I cannot help but view the stranger walking towards me in the street with suspicion and meeting friends who I have not seen in a while and not seeing their smile when greeting them is emotionally blunting. I have come to realise how much I personally depend on seeing someone’s whole face to be able to read them properly.
I also wonder what young kids think when they cannot see the faces of those around them when they are outside. How are they coping with this and how will it affect them? I saw a child while waiting for a coffee. I was smiling at the child, when I remembered that the child could not see my smile. I waved, but nonetheless felt deflated. When I smiled pointlessly at the person serving me at shops, I tried really hard to remember to go the extra step to speak and wish them a nice day so that they know they are valued for what they do.
I never fully appreciated until now that facial expression is such an important aspect of our daily lives and that smiling with our eyes does not compensate for seeing someone’s whole face and whole expression. I have also been advised, on more than one occasion, that my facial expressions do not always use their inside voice. I am therefore sure that people also struggle to know what I am thinking when I am not speaking.
While these are my frustrations, I have also come to the realisation that those that must be finding this the most difficult must be those with both mild and severe hearing impairment and those with cognitive impairment, including our elders. Speaking slowly does not help for those that cannot see a face and speaking louder, while my natural instinct, is most unhelpful in the circumstances. Being aware of this has taught me to be kinder and more patient.
I am lucky to be in this country and whilst mask wearing is a difficult thing for me on a personal and emotional level, it has also taught me to look more closely at people, be more observant to alternate cues and be more creative in getting my message across. Wearing my mask in public is my civic duty, regardless of my political views, and I will put aside my selfish thoughts and continue to do so until such time as I can share my smile again.