With a return to some semblance of normality in our everyday lives, the face mask has become a necessity every day for hours, obligatory for every venture outside of our houses. We tolerate them for their obvious benefit in reducing the spread of Covid-19, as the face mask blocks the transmission of miniature droplets emitted from our mouths and noses. But more then droplets is being stopped.
The transmission of emotions—emitted from our hearts—seems to be stopped by the mask too. It turns out our feelings, reactions, passion, and fervor are also blocked by three layers of fabric hung off our ears, obscuring even the most expressive faces and hiding away what we used to share readily with our peers. We’ve been robbed of our most basic exchanges of information, our most basic connections. A toothy grin from a friend or stranger can no longer be counted on to lift our spirits on a gloomy day, we must instead try and discern messages from sleepy eyes alone. A smiles price has skyrocketed much like our active case numbers, it now must be cherished even more then before. Perhaps the advent of the face mask then served as a way to make us realize what we had taken for granted for so many years, a tragic loss to remind us to appreciate the little things—like the twinkle in someone’s eye.
The irony then, is how freeing a face mask is, removing the need for a strict filter of emotions. I find myself more willing to express feelings when I know they’re safely hidden away behind double pleated cotton. Given permission by the blank facade I must wear, I can freely grimace in disgust, smirk at someone, blush, or even squirm, and nobody is the wiser. The liberation is quite intoxicating, to be allowed to feel fully, to let those sentiments bubble through to the surface to power a grin. However it’s isolating, because humans are meant to share our joy and sorrow with each other. Perhaps because we cannot share our emotions with others as we’d like to with a smile or frown, we are condemned to feel them ourselves more strongly.
By the time masks are no longer needed, I wonder if I’ll be able to relearn to filter what I choose to share through my facial expressions, or if I should even try? Maybe the mask has taught us something valuable, absolving us of these self-imposed restrictions on what we can or should share with the world.
Although the pandemic has taken so much from us, it has given us a gift, unburdening us from the need or expectation to put on a show to the world with a manufactured smile that says I’m fine when we really aren’t. Putting on a cloth mask lets us take off our other masks. We can finally be honest with ourselves, under the safety of a mask, without consequence or repercussion. And only when we begin to be honest with ourselves, can we truly be honest with others.
No legacy is so rich as honesty.William Shakespeare