The life cycle of the mask!

Terry Howard

An admission at the outset.

Math was not my favorite subject growing up in Virginia. Neither was logic, the rudiments of which I later learned from a tutor, “Mr. Brown,” in a cramped apartment in a Boston housing project.

But here we are, decades later, engulfed in the grips of a terrible pandemic, and I’m able apply the two – math and logic -in a way that makes sense to me, millions of others, and hopefully to those still in doubt about the efficacy of mask wearing and vaccines.

Here’s the deal.

As of this writing, over 650,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID, a huge number of them were unvaccinated. Against that awful fact is that scientific evidence that mask- wearing and vaccinations can sharply reduce pandemic-related death rates. The data is the data. The math is the math.

So, if we follow the fact that masks and vaccinations prevent infection …well…yes…duh…it shouldn’t take rocket science to apply the logic, does it?  But let’s move on.

As a matter of habit, I normally set foot out of my car to start my mile walk around a local mall starting with a quick hand check confirming the presence of my house keys, wallet and phone. However, with the spread of COVID-19, my check these days includes …. my mask! Shucks, I’ve conditioned myself to feel naked and experience pangs of guilt “if my mask ain’t there.”

Now during recent walks, I’ve noticed a larger than usual number of discarded masks strewn along the road; some tangled in hedges, others discarded next to Burger King boxes, McDonald’s wrappers, cigarette butts and an occasional beer can.

Where once those discarded masks were mostly light blue in color, nowadays they’re more representative of the rainbow colors of Americans, black, white, brown, or a combination of those. The broken straps on some got me to wondering about the lives of people who once bore those masks.

As I rounded the mall parking lot the other day, I happened across long lines of yellow parking cones leading up to canopies with “Vaccine Shots Here” hanging from tables underneath. I thought about the vaccine, the mask’s partner in prevention joined at the hip by purpose, yet too often discredited, devalued and unjustly vilified.

As I continued my walk and stared down at those discarded masks, I thought about how this thin piece of material, less than an ounce in weight, has been so politicized, become the focus of screaming, shouting, finger wagging during school board meetings and forced removal from airplanes by the anti-maskers.

Who would have thought that the innocent little mask would be loved by many, hated by others, and become a symbol of strength or defiance? Who would have thought that masks and vaccines would become synonymous with that of Dr. Fauci, America’s doctor or an ex-president who now lives in Florida? 

At the end of my journey, I suppose that you, like me, were thinking about the lives, motivations and current state of health of those who discarded those masks.

Are they still with us or have they passed away? Did they decide to toss aside that mask after getting a vaccine shot at one of the “Vaccine Shots Here” tables I walked by a quarter of a mile back? Did they come to regret having prematurely casting aside that mask? We leave answers to those questions to speculation.

As I climbed into the front seat of my car, I looked back and thought about those discarded masks and said to them, “we look forward to the day that you’ve finished your job, and like vaccine shots, you are no longer needed.  But during the interim and on behalf of yours truly and millions of others, I say thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made, the abuse you put up with and for standing tall as the stopgap between fact and fiction and, literally, between life and death.

Wrote renown American novelist William Faulkner, “You move a mountain one stone at a time.”

Writes a far, far, far less famous yours truly,” You move a pandemic one mask (and vaccine) at a time!”[U1]  © Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The Douglas County Sentinel, The American Diversity Report, The, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award.