COVID is Not Pollen & The Outside Mask Person

The moment I hit the wall on others' pandemic panic

I was walking on the sidewalk of an overpass in Arlington, VA.  A middle aged man wearing a mask was walking toward me. What happened in the moment that we passed enraged me more than anything else in a year of pandemic restrictions and shutdowns. 

We were the only people in sight. I’d taken off my mask the moment I walked out of my apartment building (where it’s required by Virginia mandate.)  There were two lanes of traffic to my right and the big fence on my left to prevent falling off the bridge. There was no parking lane or bike path on the road.  

The man started pointing to the left -- at the lane of oncoming traffic -- as if to order me to walk into the street. I knew what he wanted because this happened regularly in the liberal county.  The Outside Mask People expect the unmasked people to create the minimum 6 feet of distance for them. Many times, they have crossed the street to avoid me. 

Of course, it is impossible to get COVID in the seconds it takes to pass someone on the street. But these Outside Mask People don’t care about science and logic.  

Every time I see an Outside Mask Person, I want to invade their 6-10 feet of space to teach them, “It’s not pollen. It’s not falling out of the sky into your throat. You can take off the stupid mask.” But instead, I say it to myself in my head,  roll my eyes and bite my tongue. 

The outside is the one thing that has kept me (somewhat) sane during the pandemic.  A daily walk or run (or both) during the worst of the lockdown last spring kept me from jumping off the balcony in my tiny apartment in Houston. 

The rest of this year, walks and runs have reminded me daily that as so much has changed for the worse, God has not changed. I look at the sky, trees, flowers, air, sun, rivers and wildlife and think about how nature is not affected by COVID. The constancy of God’s creation calms my anxiety. 

So, in retrospect, it was inevitable that when I hit the wall on everything and everyone related to the pandemic, it would happen outside.  

The man in the mask was about a block away on the sidewalk. It was now a game of chicken. He kept getting more emphatic as he gestured for me to walk into the traffic. I continued to walk toward him. His pace got more aggressive. I kept moving, and we passed each other. I walked another step or two and suddenly heard him yell from behind me, “F--k you, bitch!”

My heart started racing. The coward yelled at my back.  But I’ve taken self defense classes and so am careful about not doing things out of fear or anger that will end up getting me hurt. So I stopped for a second and considered my response. 

Then I turned around and yelled as loudly as I could over the traffic noise,” F--k you, motherf----er! F--CK. YOU.” 

I could see him jolt a little. He wasn’t expecting it from a petite woman. But he didn't turn around to face me. 

I turned around and kept walking in the opposite direction. I really smiled to myself. My heart was still beating fast. I felt like I could punch the rest of the pandemic wall and finally be free. 

I took a few deep breaths to calm my nerves.  I was surprised by the depths of my anger. Motherf-----r? Where did I even learn that? But I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed for stooping to his level. I felt really good. Sure, the man had been unacceptable rude, but I was angry about what he represented. He was the lockdown that made me claustrophobic. He was the irrational restrictions and dehumanizing orders. He was the masks that made me feel like I’m being suffocated.

And all this was for a virus that I never worried about getting. The government told us it was for --at first -- flattening the curve. Then it was all about keeping our parents and grandparents alive. Then it was about getting the whole country vaccinated. The government kept taking our freedom but never gave us an end to it, and we haven’t fought back against it -- until recently. 

As I've written before, I believe that this country has learned helplessness from the lockdowns. Learned helplessness is a psychiatric condition in which a person has tried to change a situation and been unable and then stops trying, even when he is able to do so. This explains why people are still staying wearing masks and staying at home after getting vaccinated. They have learned to be helpless. Now it’s time for us to stand up to the government and learn to be active participants in how our society and economy get back to normal. 

We have lost so much individual freedom in the past year. But in that one moment on the sidewalk when I fought back, I realized that is how to be empowered to take back our rights. We have to fight for our freedom. 

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