“Yawar! Is that you?” I turn around. But who is she? Have you ever tried to ask a lady who recognizes you, who she is? I suggest you wear cleats and be in a half-turned crouch before you do. Pays to play safe. Then, bless her, she does the right thing. Or I should say, she remembered our latest etiquette – remove the mask at a safe distance – and I go, “WOW! Gloria. So delightful to see you. Where have you been hiding?”
Do you wonder what the real face behind the mask, looks like? Not of strangers. Your friends. Those you have not seen without a mask in now over two years? And when they do take the mask off, are you surprised? I won’t ask if you are shocked. Sometimes I am. So, here are some questions:
Did you ask someone to put ON their mask so that you could recognize them? I know there is a TicToc about that. Too close to reality.
Did you notice the sign outside the bank, “Put on your mask before you enter”? And wondered how Bill Cassidy would have taken it? I can imagine him saying, “Hey! Sundance, forget it. Let’s go man! These people don’t play fair. Takes all the fun out of robbing a bank if the bank tells you to put on a mask before you go in. I mean! What’s the whole point of being a bank robber if the bank tells you to put on a mask, eh!”
But seriously how many of you imagined that you could walk into a bank in America wearing a mask and not have the teller hitting the panic button? “But officer (to the cop), I was only playing safe!” O Yeah!! Tell the Captain about it, pal. Now wear these nice bracelets and let’s go.”
Did you notice how the eyes stand out and look so beautiful when the rest of the face is hidden? O! Boy!! Is that what you really look like?
Did you notice that the smile is now more sincere because it was always the mouth that lied, not the eyes? The smile comes through from the heart.
I call my friend. Haven’t seen him in ages. We have been such good friends for so many years.
“Hello Harry! How are you? Been a long time. I am planning to come by your town tomorrow for some work and wonder if you guys are home. We, my wife, and I thought it would be lovely to drop by and meet you and Martha. Haven’t seen you in now what, two years?”
You can sense the panic. “Hey! Yawar. Great to hear from you. We are staying home and not going anywhere at all. Too risky in these times.” You can hear his mind saying, “Come on man!! Try to understand. Don’t make me say it out loud.”
“Okay Harry, stay well. Lots of love to both of you and let’s hope we can all meet next year.” I get the message.
Ah! He pulls a chair. He must sit down. His knees are shivering. Potential calamity averted. Covid is still at bay.
And the last one: you come home; wife greets you in the garage. “Hi Hon! I love you, give me a hug.”
“Take off your clothes.”
“What! You mean here? I know these are permissive times but surely this is pushing it. Think of the kids. What if one of them walks in!”
“Get into the shower and stop dreaming. Times have changed but not that much. Put your clothes in the bin, shower, put on your sanitized clothes and then come in. I’m making dinner.”
Ah! Mystery cleared. Life has changed, but not in all ways. Some things remain the same. Maybe there is relief to be sought in this as well.
In another world, on another planet, in times of yore imagine these scenes:
Man (stranger or old friend, same difference) sticks his hand out to shake yours. Aargh!! He had to do it?? Okay, so I shake it, very gingerly and immediately I sanitize my hands, trying to be unobtrusive, but if he still sees me doing it; what the hell! What did he expect? The man thinks, “Racist, casteist, OCD, paranoid maniac.”
Old friend sees you. Hasn’t met you in ages. Comes at you, arms wide open, hug waves preceding him. But you have learnt the moves to avert such liberties. You drop something and bend down to pick it up. Or you turn half away and put your phone to your ear with your right hand while pushing out your left hand in his direction to say, “Hold on, I must answer this call.” The hug in downgraded to a handshake. Old friend, “What’s wrong with him? He’s forgotten me and our friendship? Just because he made some money, he thinks he is too good for his old friends. Bloody rotter!”
Yeah! I know. You can add to these. But the situation is grim. It has resulted in distance, estrangement, and loneliness. Loneliness kills. It must be fought.
We are touchy, feely creatures. Our most powerful ways to communicate have always been wordless. When our emotions peak, we are struck speechless. Our gestures, hugs, and tears tell the tale far more powerfully than anything we could have said. Words uttered at such times appear contrived and artificial, devoid of sincerity. We didn’t speak. We hugged. We kissed. We wept with each other; tears of both grief and happiness. This is what being human meant. It still does but thanks to a creature, unseen, unknown but not unfelt, we must rethink what being human means today. How can we fight the physical distance which is translating into emotional distance? Whoever invented the apparently supremely oxymoronic term, ‘social distance’, must be given a prize. To me it is a challenge. How can I remain social while being distanced? Social distance. Not anti-social or unsocial distance. Social distance. Stay away but still be social. Because we are social beings, herd animals. Not loners. Fight loneliness before it kills us.
Firstly, realize and leverage the power of technology. Become smarter than your phone. Talk to people. Not just send smileys. Talk. I sometimes ask those who complain about not living close to their family, how many times a week they do a video call with them? Most don’t even do it once a week. Yet they complain. There was a time when you had to go to a multimedia studio to do a video call. Today we can do it on our phones and all for free. But do we? As someone said, ‘Begin the action in the place you make the intention.’ So, stop reading and pick up your phone and call that person you have been meaning to call for a long time. Do it now. How was it?
We must learn how to convey what we used to do with the hug, in words. I know we will never do it to our satisfaction. Nothing will supplant and replace the hug. But we must try. Yes, it will seem contrived, until we get used to it. And if it comes from the heart, then it will reach another heart. Will do wonders for our verbal communication too. Grunts won’t do. We need language. Words and the power to paint pictures with them. Our imagination will do the rest.
I recall a time and place where I wrote letters. On tracing paper to keep the cost of postage down (the power of being poor), using a very fine nib and writing clearly but very close together. Heart poured out through ink (navy blue Quink), transporting the writer into the company of the reader. Seeing them read and respond. Listening to them speak. Look into their eyes. Hold them in your arms. Okay! Wake up.
We can write. We can speak. We must. No physical contact, doesn’t need to translate into no contact. This is the new normal. Let’s learn to like it.