The masks are coming off.
Is it safe?
We shall see.
It’s weird to wander into the world without one after spending over a year behind one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared masks are no longer required if you’re fully vaccinated, outdoors and not in a crowd.
Like you, I’ve got an entire drawer designated for masks. N95s. Black Lives Matter. Flowered cotton. Blue surgical. And a pile of bandannas and hiking gaiters declared not safe enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
So, how did I forget a mask the other day when I went to pick up the dog from day care? I searched the car. I used to have a mask in every nook and cranny, the console, the glove compartment, the back seat, the front seat. Nope.
I did the best I could holding a stack of tissues over my nose and mouth, nearly suffocating myself. The next day I saw a woman at a store who forgot her mask. She pulled her sweater up over her nose to make it count.
On my daily walks, I find discarded masks on the ground. They drop out of pockets or fall off while people are running and no one seems to miss them.
We’re emerging into a new world. Kudos and high fives to all who honored the mask mandate these last 14 months. We were all super heroes of a sort, mask wearers who saved the world from a deadly pandemic.
But who will we be without them?
Will women go back to wearing lipstick? I used to wear Chapstick daily and carried a stick in every coat pocket. I got through an entire winter without it.
Because no one could see my teeth for a year, I got Invisalign. It was the best time to do it. I had put it off for years, but found my teeth shifting even more as I aged. Was I too old to get straight teeth at 64? My dentist, Paul Rosenblitt, told me one of his patients got them in his 80s, and said it was the best thing he ever did for himself.
I’m on tray No. 9 and love that no one can see them. Now what?
We introverts are going to have to climb out of our COVID caves. That mask felt like a protective shield. We were hidden in plain sight. That mask was like wearing a disguise. We could vanish like we were behind Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility. People couldn’t see us grit our teeth or hear those sarcastic comments whispered under our breath.
We could relate to actor Alex Nevil, who tweeted, “I’ve never worn a mask before and it’s becoming comfortable, like a warm blanket of stay the hell away from me.”
And didn’t you just love ripping off the mask as soon as you got into your car? It felt a bit wild and reckless. As one woman said, it was like ripping off your bra as soon as you got home for the day.
At least there will be no more dealing with those unmentionables, smelling your own morning breath, the scent of your own burps and having a runny nose ruin the inside of your mask.
As we emerge from our COVID caves, what do we want our lives, and our calendars, to look like? This introvert has secretly loved all those empty pages.
What will human contact feel like? Can we shake hands instead of bumping elbows? Hug freely instead of giving air hugs? Do we have to sanitize our palms after we high five?
We recently held our first indoor gathering. It felt so strange to have eight people visiting inside our house, all of them vaccinated. My friend, Michael, asked for a hug.
“We can finally hug,” I said, surprised at our new freedom.
So I hugged him. It was a clumsy hug, since the only rare non-family hugs I’ve given have been the kind where you could stick a few thick phone books between you and the next person.
“This is my first hug in a year,” he said.
He wanted seconds.
My heart melted. I gave him another and made it count. I squeezed all the love I could in that hug.
“Thanks,” he said, grinning.
Oh, that smile.
We can finally see smiles.
That’s the best part of going maskless.