Today I lost my smile.
Okay, maybe not literally and seriously lost my smile, but it certainly felt like it.
Over the last few weeks – a time which has felt like an eternity – large areas of my city have returned to lockdown due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. The “second wave”. Most new cases of the virus are troublingly due to an increase in community transmission, lax behaviour of some individuals, and alleged inadequate hotel quarantine practices. There is some consensus that we came out of our first lockdown way too soon.
There was a time when 3,000 people who live across nine public housing towers had to be immediately “hard locked” into their small flats for five days due to a high infection rate in their area. This meant that these people (many who are the most vulnerable in our society) could not go out at all – not for food, fresh air, medical reasons, anything. Food and other essentials were delivered to them. It touched my heart when people in my city sent them messages of support. Thankfully, these residents are now out of their hard lockdown and have joined everyone else with the stage three restrictions we now endure.
We have daily media updates from our Premier (State leader) and medical professionals, during which the latest new infection numbers are revealed (as at today’s writing it is 317 new cases – the highest and worst of any part of Australia since this pandemic began). Other States have shut their borders to us. Sports professionals have left to play elsewhere. Stories exist about people trying to stowaway in car boots (trunks) and trucks to head north and Covid freedom. Several more people have died of the virus. In comparison with many places around the world, Australia’s death toll is “small” but every death is one too many. So the fight against this insidious virus continues, and must.
Churches have once again closed in my locale, and everyone must return to online Mass. We have wound the clock back to where we were in April 2020, and can only emerge from our homes for four reasons – shopping for food or other essential items, care giving/medical treatment, exercise, and work or study if not possible from home. The other day a man was fined for refusing to leave a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to finish his meal. Police have found people hiding in cupboards at illegal gatherings and parties.
Who would have thought all this a mere six months ago? But it is a danger. People must distance and listen. We cannot shake hands. We cannot hug. We cannot kiss one another. We cannot pass “go” or even collect two hundred dollars. We cannot do what every human being longs for – to be truly social and fully human. This game will not end anytime soon, and it is not funny.
Today marked the occasion of another first for me in this strange, uncomfortable time. The first outing with a face mask. A family member made masks according to the instructions we have all been given. Ours is not a mask-wearing culture. I think most western countries would be in the same proverbial boat. As a singer it feels particularly strange – the sensation of being muffled and shut up somewhat. But, alas, we must adapt. This is another world.
So off I went to the supermarket with my mask fitting snugly around my face. It is made with the obligatory three layers described in the article linked to above, and is pretty comfortable, I must admit. Because it is winter for us southern hemisphere people right now, it feels like planting my face in a soft cloud which keeps my breath warm. Wonderful. The outer layer is made of a waterproof material (okay, okay, it is actually material from an old, broken umbrella) and looks like something out of a psychedelic 1970s science-fiction movie.
Hey, we are living in a psychedelic 1970s science-fiction movie, aren’t we? I digress…
I was mortified upon leaving the house. My vanity drum beat louder. My heart beat louder. Not only that, but my relative who went shopping with me wore exactly the same mask design – something which brought embarrassing memories flooding back because as children we wore clothing made out of the same material for what felt like eons. As youngsters we didn’t like matching wherever we went. Thankfully we have contentedly lived our own styles and tastes since then until…tah dah… 2020. I was convinced that I would be laughed at or pointed out as a bit of a mask freak. No matter.
Upon reaching the supermarket I was heartened to see many more people of all ages wearing their own masks too – perhaps not as “out there” as mine was, but doing the right thing nonetheless. I felt proud of my fellow citizens. I told myself that I was doing this for my elderly parents, and in memory of those who have died. I am thankfully healthy, but want to protect my brothers and sisters around me, myself, and my family.
Being able to buy food freely, see the shelves well-stocked once more, and mingle with people (not too closely, mind) heartened me, and I felt calmer because of my mask. When speaking and interacting with others minimally I found myself saying thank you while smiling widely… and then realised that they could not see my smile due to said mask.
Others have told me that I have a nice smile. I like my smile too. I like the full lips and strong teeth that I inherited from my family. Not being able to share that smile with others made me feel less human today. I felt lost without being able to smile directly at others, and to also see their smiles, but I did not stop doing it. And that is the point, friends. I smiled anyway, and automatically gave these people a thumbs up sign (now embedded in my behaviour due to Skype meetings).
I recently completed a beautiful eight day Ignatian retreat during which I discovered so many things about Jesus; His intimate, real, and tender love for me and the power of His Word which knows no bounds. His love bursts through all coverings we may put upon ourselves, metaphorically speaking. Our words are powerful, too. We can communicate in so many other ways. People may not see my smile when I go out from now on with my “psycho” mask covering half of my face (I actually do like it now…okay, I tolerate it through gritted covered teeth), but I am still human. I still have my soul. All of us must never forget this during this pandemic.
I continue to sing in my little ‘cell’ at home (I love the Catholic mystics and their cells…), even though I cannot do so at church right now. I can communicate slowly, purposefully, and with a warm tone when I talk. My fingers can still tap away on my keyboard, reaching out to you, to tell you this:
We are mask-wearing champions.
Even if the bits of cloth around our faces feel and look weird, and we cannot show others we love them through our faces…
Keep loving people.
Even when our voices are muffled when we talk…
Keep laughing or find something to laugh about.
Even if you are sinking right now, and may be at your lowest…
Don’t give up.
Your eyes can still look up to the God who loves you madly.
And you, and you, and you over there cringing and hiding in the corner.
Now, check this out and have a wonderful day wherever you are:
Image Credit: pixabay.com