The thing that epitomises the age of covid more than any other is the face covering. While there are big issues with lock down, the restrictions, the interference in personal lives, the terrible cost, the collateral damage, the serious problems with the vaccine, nothing quite sums up the whole wretched business like the mask and I can never get used to it. It is the flag of allegiance the icon of conformity. The fact that they come in all different sizes and creative designs only conceals the fact they are potent ideological symbols. Wearing one, makes it clear you are on the right side. Even if you have absolutely no conviction that it does any good, wearing one demonstrates that you are in solidarity with the vulnerable and you care. It signals your virtue. It’s the “workers of the world unite” poster you put up in your grocer’s shop.
When I complain about the mandate, friends keep telling me “och, its no big deal….what’s the problem? people in Asia have been wearing them for years… just be patient, nobody likes them, but, hey, we have been through this for over a year we can manage another month or two surely?…there are people really worried about the virus and it helps them if you toe the line…See it as an act of kindness…we all need to do our bit” etc etc. The overwhelming majority of those in my circle take that line and think that I am being really obtuse and deliberately awkward if not downright misanthropic in doubting the perceived wisdom. They come over as being pretty wearied of my cantankerous obstinacy and unwillingness to shut up. As it happens, most of the time I do. But there comes the time when we need to talk.
I can only speak for myself, but my hatred of mask wearing is visceral. It is not the face covering that I use to stop plaster dust getting into my lungs when ripping out the lath, it is not the mask our friend in Nepal would wear when she ventured into the heavily polluted air of Kathmandu, it is not the masks that the surgeons wear in medical procedures. There is sense in logic in all of those. But there is no logic or sense in the mandating of face coverings in certain public spaces, as is the law in Scotland today. A law that seems unlikely ever to be repealed.
But my revulsion goes deeper. Masked balls in period dramas always gave me the creeps and I would never watch the phantom of the opera for the same reason. Faces covered with a mask of an animal or a bird a bear or a goat, often associated with some pagan caper, always unsettles me and even a photomask of a person’s face with slits for eyes does the same. I remember a surprise engagement party that was arranged for a friend of ours while her boyfriend was in a different country. When I brought her to the party, all the friends had facemasks made from a photo of his face. It was so creepy. She did manage to carry it off with astonishing grace but it would have traumatised me. Now, seeing people I know and love and care about obscured behind pieces of cloth is extremely disconcerting. I will never get used to that and I refuse to.
Everyone, I assume, now knows that the science is not only pitifully weak on the efficacy but weighted against any value that face coverings have in halting transmission of the virus. I am not a scientist, but common sense tells me so and there is a simple experiment that pretty well proves it. The decision for the mandate is almost certainly a political one, not a scientific one and it divides people.
For my own part I simply try and avoid any place where I am required to wear one or, at most, keep it to an absolute minimum. I used to love public transport but now take any other option than board a bus or a train. I walk or cycle or just don’t go. I chose cafes who are more relaxed and who apologise for what they have to do. I make visit to shops, in an out, as speedily as possible. I avoid eye contact with people wearing masks in the street, while exchanging smiles with faces I see. It was not what I wished for, but I guess I can cope with all of that.
Still I have a problem, a serious one that is still unresolved and it is to do with the wearing of masks in Church. It is doubly complicated, as I have a leadership role and there is constant internal argument, that rages in my mind and ties nasty knots in my gut. We are of course following the official line being “Subject to the Governing Authorities” who are there for our good. We are also discouraged from discussing the issue. It could be divisive. “This is not the time” we are told, “to air personal opinions. These should be put aside as we work for the common good”. We are to be sensitive and considerate of our “weaker brother” who might be fearful of a mask-less community. We should show love. All of this pulls incessantly on my emotions and throws doubts into my resolve.
At the same time the logical reasoned side of my brain tells me this is all wrong. Somehow the experience, the vital experience, of coming together with the people, to worship God should not be hindered or shackled by the diktats of the state. The Free Church of Scotland, would surely be the last church on earth to acquiesce with the government but that is what we have done. Goodness me, this is the denomination that was born out of a rebellion against the unlawful interference of the state in the life of the church. So this is deeply troubling.
The counter, of course, is that this is simply a health issue. We should comply and we are not compromising. I would like to think that is true but I suspect that something deeper and more sinister is going on and it is to do with the covering of the face. It is to do with the stoking of fear. It is to do with the emasculation of communication. It is to do with bearing allegiance to another god. When we sing our songs of worship, we sing them through a cloth mandated by the state. When we listen, the preacher cannot second guess where we are, behind our forced facades. When we share, all subtleties and nuances are filtered out. One, possibly the, most blessed and enriching experience in all of life, for me, is at once neutered and reduced to a bland innocuous and soulless happening. I can’t, I won’t get used to it.
For my sanity’s sake, at least, we need to talk about it.