Can you believe it’s been almost 8 months, give or take, since we first heard of Covid-19? Social distancing came into play shortly after that in March, and after that mask wearing, and now we’re already in September. Where did the time go? It feels so crazy to think we’ve been living in a different world.
I remember when the pandemic first became real, making headlines every day. I can remember feeling uncertain, fearful, and lost. At the beginning of 2020, pre-Covid, we were having our weekly family date nights at our favorite restaurant, heading to the theater for new releases, and taking strolls at the mall. But everything changed in a blink of an eye. Schools shut down, restaurants closed their doors, and then all of a sudden you couldn’t leave your house without wearing a mask.
Wearing a mask has almost become second nature to me. I wear it out in public; I wear it all day at work too. I carry one in my purse and a few in my car for emergencies. My almost 5 year old doesn’t even question it anymore, so I call that a win. We even have matching CareBear masks my aunt made us. We like to be cute and matchy sometimes.
Feeling Unseen Behind a Mask
I can vividly remember having to wear my mask out in public for the first time. I went grocery shopping alone and I felt nervous, I was afraid, I was definitely not myself. I couldn’t make eye contact, not even with the cashier. I felt bad for it, but I couldn’t help myself. I was swimming in unknown territory and I didn’t know how to act or react. Everyone was suddenly feeling on edge, myself included. I didn’t feel normal, and technically normal didn’t exist anymore. I didn’t feel acknowledged; I didn’t feel seen, so how could I acknowledge someone else, while wearing a mask over my face, over my smile?
Every time I went out in public, the fear was and still is very present, but it has slowly gotten easier. I mean S-L-O-W-L-Y, like baby steps. Think of a turtle racing to the finish line kind of slow. People have begun making conversations little by little all while behind the mask. They began making eye contact behind the mask. And after almost 6 months I’ve been able to finally visualize the smile behind the mask.
The young man bagging my groceries got me talking the other day. I hadn’t talked to a stranger like that in a very long time. I didn’t know I missed that kind of random connection. Somehow he managed to find out my weekend plans visiting home, where I was originally from, what the weather was like back there and if I had small children. All this in a matter of minutes and all while wearing a mask.
I look at people in the eyes now and I can see their eyes smiling back at me. Granted it’s a different kind of smile but it’s comforting to know that we’ve all been through this pandemic together. Some at different degrees than others of course. Some seeing first hand this virus attacking loved ones, even losing loved ones. Some being lucky to have not dealt with that kind of pain and grief, but live in fear of the what if’s. But nonetheless, the smile behind the mask is there. You just have to look for it.
Today as I was walking out of yet another doctors appointment, I was feeling relieved, hopeful, and a little anxious about my visit. Going down the elevator from the 23rd floor and up the escalator to get to the car garage, I was alone and consumed with my thoughts and daily prayers. Then something special happened. From a distance, a lady dressed in blue walked in my direction. It was then that I saw, I felt, and I heard the smile behind the mask from a passing stranger. It was then that I was inspired to write and reflect. Her smile was contagious, it made me smile right back at her.
There were no words exchanged. No hesitation in our pace. No time wasted. Just a brief smile exchanged by both of us. A smile that I needed today so very much. It got me thinking about how our normal has changed so much these last few months and how we’ve “hidden”, so to speak, behind a mask. But a mask can’t hide who we really are. A mask may make it difficult to connect with people, strangers in particular, but it doesn’t change a person, well at least not forever.
We all have the potential to let our smile behind the mask be seen, be heard, be felt. It doesn’t take much to smile at stranger or two the next time you’re out. We can’t control what’s happening in the world, but we can control how to respond. Just Smile.