The mask is hot and uncomfortable, and I touch my face more now while I’m wearing it than ever before. I touch the mask to keep the bridge away from my eyes or press it flush against my cheeks. I pull the mask down past my chin. I adjust the wire around my nose and tug at the elastic around my ears. I don’t like the restrictive confinement of the mask. Once outside, I rip one side away from my head and let the mask hang from my other ear. As soon as I get to my car, I hang the mask on my visor if I have more errands, or tuck it above my visor when I’m heading home. I hate this mask, but I know it keeps me safer.

A doctor friend says the mask without a fancy kine filter is like a knitted condom. It won’t work very well on its own because germs can still get through, but if we’re all wearing knitted condoms and staying at least six feet apart, we keep our germs on us instead of spreading them to others. Begrudgingly, I wear the mask.

I respect the mask, but some days, I think it’s just a social convention so we aren’t panoptically shamed. Then I see the coronavirus reports in the morning. Even though the numbers are climbing slowly on the Big Island—single digit cases per day—they are still growing, which is disconcerting.  People are still getting sick.

Given the abrupt changes to our lives, it’s easy to examine the challenges under a microscope. However, we should also highlight the good things that have come from social distancing. I realize I come from an immense place of privilege. I still have a job and paycheck. I have the internet and space where I can work from home. My Mister and I are both in education, but he was told early he would need to file for unemployment. While I don’t know what my employment will be after the summer, for now, I am fortunate. I also feel useful.

I recognize some value I bring to my students and community. I don’t sew, but I can research and share information. I share access to food, and I help people in dangerous, toxic, or abusive environments. Spreading information about community-supported agriculture produce boxes from Bountiful Hawaii assures people they can have fresh fruits and vegetables without going to the store, relieving people who are immunocompromised or living with depression and anxiety. Sharing www.openbigisland.com alleviates the guesswork about restaurants being open, their hours, and whether they provide takeout and delivery.

Therapy and a great support system help me remain calm and deal with self-isolation.

If this pandemic were occurring in the past, I would be freaking the fuck out. I would be obsessively checking the news, poring over the hidden meaning of the growing numbers, talking with people who made me spin by focusing on the problem, and looking for patterns in hot spots and my own community. I would be crippled by fear and anxiety, terrified to leave the house, and I would wash my clothes as soon as I got home for no reason because I am not immunocompromised.

I would have climbed the ladder and taken the dive into the depths of conspiracy and martial law. I’m instead reaping the benefits of years of work toward better mental health. I check the county reports when I they come in, and I do not engage in conversations with people who don’t know anything about coronavirus on social media. I try to refrain from reading stories that are sensational or have spin. In this stressful and uncertain time, we can be less angry by working on communication and relational skills to better understand ourselves and others.

Again, my privilege and work on myself affords me the space and freedom to be there for others. In many ways, COVID-19 brought my community closer, and for that, I’m thankful. I have been able to connect (and reconnect) with so many people I value. I am proud of the work my friends and family are doing to stay safe, help their communities, and care for their families. Behind the mask, I am human just like you. I see you.  If you need anything, please reach out.

Bountiful Hawaii can be contacted at hamakua.farms808@gmail.com or https://www.hamakuafarmscsa.com.

behindthemask mask

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