Friday, July 3, 2020

It's a Free Country

All lives matter, we hear.

I’m not talking about race, but it comes from the same source.

Because we don’t really believe it, do we?

If we did, we’d be wearing a mask in public places.

That’s the truth. If you’re not wearing a mask when you interact with other people, you don’t believe all lives matter.

You don’t believe your wife and children matter. Or your parents. You don’t believe the people you work with matter.

The only life that matters to you is yours.

We are watching new cases of the virus surge in Texas, as businesses open. You’ll have proof of the connection, eventually, when it’s too late.

Crowds thronged our area on the weekend of June 6th, unmasked, ignoring social distancing. These were mostly people from somewhere else. Our beleaguered businesses were thrilled, I expect. They’ve been suffering. The owners and employees have been suffering. No one can deny that.

I visualize those crowds bursting out of solitary hunkering like so many grade school kids let loose to run and play after a hard morning at their desks. With about as much mature thought.

And men were the most likely to go maskless. I see them, everywhere I go in Fayette and Washington Counties.

Their naked faces declare they’re not afraid. It’s a free country. A man’s personal freedom is the only thing that matters.

But he’s not free to spit on the floor of a restaurant or urinate in its parking lot. He’s not free to smoke in a non-smoking place. He can’t walk into the nearest movie theater and holler “fire!”

So many ways we’re not free to harm our neighbors.

Maskless, though, he can walk around exhaling virus on other people. He can sing at the top of his lungs in church all over the person in front of him. He feels fine.

Or, maybe he’s got a little headache and scratchy throat.

Or, sure, he may be a little sub-par—hay fever, you know. He’ll power through.

No one can make him think of anyone else. His mother used to try. She’d drill it into him. But now, he’s a big boy. Nobody can tell him what to do.

Or her, his wife. She hates the masks. (I do, too.) They’re hot and they itch and one’s breath is not a minty delight.

But she chooses to wear it, just in case. She wears it in the grocery store. She wears it bringing groceries and supplies to her car or someone else’s. She wears it, cooking in a restaurant, despite the inconvenience.

She wears it in case the 30% increase in county Covid cases that we’ve had over the past month has touched her. She doesn’t want to bring the virus home to her children, her mother or grandmother who’s diabetic. Or grandfather who’s on oxygen. Or to her macho husband who refuses to wear his mask.

Why do you think we’ve been “lucky” so far? Round Top is a tourist destination. Why don’t we show the rate of Covid infection Houston does, for example? A throng is a throng, after all.

One reason, I think, is our leadership. County officials had the courage and good sense to cancel the Spring Antique Shows. That made sure outsiders did not flood our community with virus from far flung hot spots.

But the July 4th celebration is coming. 

And it might not be a disaster if everyone who attends it, man, woman or child, wears an adequate mask and observes strict social distancing. Wouldn’t that be a great example of community spirit?

Come on, folks. Make Mommy and Daddy proud.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Do You Feel Safe?

Our county’s largest town has fewer than 5000 residents. Many of us live on rural properties that give us a nice daily walk to the mailbox. Small wonder that, at the time of this writing, Fayette County had only 30 cases of Covid-19, with 2 deaths.

I give thanks every day, and I imagine you do, too. Because the contrast with larger entities is stark: Texas (47,000 and 1,305 deaths); New York City (348,232 and 22,478 deaths).

It’s comforting to think the difference is population density, isn’t it? All those people crammed together in cities, living in little boxes stacked on top of each other, too high in the air for birdsong.

It doesn’t sound in the least appealing. And certainly not for eight weeks or more confined to one of those boxes.

The kindness of strangers is a requirement for city life, even in normal times. The kindness of neighbors, too.

We’ve been receiving a lot of the latter since our self-isolation here at Winedale began in late February. Our neighbors, meaning all of you, have been so kind and helpful.

Because of my husband’s age, we are abiding by especially strict limitations. Everything that comes into the house is sanitized by me. If I must go into a store, when I return home, I immediately throw the clothes I wore into the washer.

Our margin for error is zero.

You cannot imagine how we long for a loosening of the noose of caution that draws our worry close, night and day.

What would allow that to happen? What would make us feel safe? This is the question that livelihoods, jobs, depend on.

There are answers, of course, but they’re not fast, and they’re not certain.

The culture of our past thirty-five years has not rewarded patience. Every innovation in technology has been to speed things up. A staggering degree of complexity hides behind one click.

Now we’re being asked to understand so much that isn’t easy.

The medical world anticipated a pandemic from China for years, in fact, and warned us we needed a battle plan. (I read about the role of that country’s wet markets in viral transmission at least ten years ago.)

Political leadership minimized those warnings using the same arguments we hear from Congress, now, on climate change. A crisis foreseen never commands the attention of one in full flower.

Most of us have grown up in a culture of distrust. The internet does a particularly effective job of magnifying honest error into conspiracy. We can’t tell whom to believe. And often we just opt out, altogether.

But now we have a choice.

We can flaunt bravado, scorn every request for caution, as a teen-ager might. Or we can grow up and wear that facemask.

Even though we still can’t buy the kind of masks that protect us, we can use homemade masks that protect the people we talk to, the people we pass or stand in line with.

And they can protect you by wearing their masks and keeping a good distance.

If we follow directives from Austin and “open up,” if we hold the July 4th Celebration, and the Sesquicentennial Fete in August, tourists will come from places where the virus is flourishing. We don’t know if they’ll be sick, or asymptomatic, or healthy.

We don’t know if we are, either, right now.

But if everyone wears that annoying face mask and maintains a thoughtful distance, we might all come through it okay.

I’m talking about masks that cover both nose and mouth, worn by every man, woman and kid out of infancy. (Babies should NOT wear facemasks.)

It isn’t a matter of comfort or liberty. It’s a matter of kindness.