Here in Melbourne, July 2020 – the year of COVID19 – it is now mandatory to wear a mask out of the house.
Already in the lead up to the official start of the great Melbourne masking of 2020 most people in the street had masked up.
There’s a whole new etiquette to being and greeting. And a whole new way of making a statement.
There’s the serious mask wearer with filter. There’s the surgical mask. The home made mask. The mask with a message. The scarf mask. Mask under the chin. Mask hanging off an ear.
In a way you can tell so much about a person by the mask they choose to wear.
Funnily enough I feel comfortable enough at least in a surgical mask. I may not have been in a surgical theatre for years…but I seem to have muscle memory for it – if there’s such a thing. Somehow the mask just goes on easily for me.
But plenty of others aren’t so lucky. Some feel anxious, like they can’t breathe. Some have dermatitis. Others are terrified by the sight of others in masks.
And it does look otherworldly. We are used to faces and smiles and frowns and all the gazillion ways we communicate with each other.
But now we are masked, and hidden behind that triple layer that stands between us the world. That keeps our germs in – and other people’s germs out.
Yes, it can be lonely behind a mask.
But as I recall from decades ago in theatre, you get really good at reading eyes – and other subtle communication signs of anger, tension, laughter.
Maybe in some way it enhances communication…in a weird way there develops a kind of new sense about the emotional state of another.
And maybe that’s a good thing. Because in a way, we already go around the world masked.
Sometimes our mask is a persona we adopt for ourselves. And sometimes our masks are thrust upon us by others judging us by our skin colour, or religion, or ancestry, or some other external part of ourselves that is visible to others – yet covers up our inner self.
The world is in such pain at the moment. Sometimes all we can see is the mask we think others are wearing – and forget that their skin or any other attribute is no more than a covering for the inner person. The soul – the vibrant life force that makes each of us unique and special.
If we can learn one lesson from this great masking – perhaps it’s learning to listen to each other beyond the external. Listen to what is underneath the mask. To the real people we all are just by virtue of being human.
If masks can teach us to unmask the human inside all of us…to truly recognise that there is more that unites us than divides us…to be able to heal the hurt we’ve caused each other and move into the future able to honour, respect and dignity our differences….then the pain of this masking may just be worth it.