Masked Strangers: a COVID Cost

Going to the supermarket, library or store used to be a social activity. I may not have known anyone but, invariably, I chatted with those around me. Perhaps we discussed whether this year’s corn was sweet or if we should wait to buy, maybe we bonded for a few fleeting moments over a shared delight in an author, or we might have exchanged eyeball rolls at the annoyance of a computer glitch that delayed checkout. These transient interactions acknowledged a human fellowship.

Now, those around me view me not as a source of information and camaraderie but as a threat. How dare you come near me while I am picking out peaches? Are you going to make me sick? If there are smiles, one cannot see them. I sometimes don’t even recognize the masked face of those I do know; I certainly don’t relate to strangers.

What a loss! This week, I was remembering a Musing I wrote eight years ago that highlighted how severely damaging it is when something severs human relationships. Whether casual, neighborly connections get cut or if deeper and more intense connections between friends and family are hurt, the results for society are deadly serious.

Here is some of what I wrote then that is even more applicable today.

My husband and I were privileged to attend a siyum at our daughter and son-in-law’s house. A siyum marks the conclusion of learning a specific portion of God’s word. In this case, our grandson, Yosef, completed his very first section of the Mishnah—a compilation of ancient Jewish wisdom. Learning Mishnah marks a growth in maturity of thought and is a portal to deeper understanding. To mark the event, Yosef’s parents invited his teacher to a celebratory dinner.

What made this event particularly special is that we have known the young man who teaches Yosef since he was born. We met his parents when, as singles, they began attending my husband’s Torah classes. We rejoiced at their wedding; our families have shared many joyous and some sad times together as the teacher/student relationship evolved into one of close friendship. When our children were looking for a Torah teacher for Yosef, our friends’ oldest child was a natural choice.

When society functions successfully, this is how life works. People get to know, care for and trust each other. They interact in small family units, extended units of family and friends, and larger units like synagogue, church or business networks. When times are good they share Fourth of July barbecues, pick up groceries for each other and exchange recipes and books. In a time of need, such as illness, losing a job or a natural disaster like a hurricane, they support each other, providing not only physical assistance but also loving comfort.

Inevitably, as the government grows ever-bigger, family and friendship ties shrink. The more an impersonal government provides, the less people rely on each other. The less people rely on each other, the more they generally need government support. As taxes increase to provide more necessities and entitlements it forces more people to work longer hours, leaving them less time for strengthening ties to family and friends. When government is the first resource rather than the last one, forming relationships becomes optional and temporary. “What can you do for me” associations replace the traditional connections that are a vital, necessary part of successful living.

In the final analysis, the government cannot supply love, affection, compassion or charity. It can provide money and services, but not heart. It can provide a monthly check but it strips dignity. It can label you as needy but not recognize and encourage the sparks of your soul that turn you into a giver rather than a taker. It can fool you into thinking that you are self-sufficient, while preventing you from forming networks of community and recognizing that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Current society is devolving so that people relate more to the government than to each other. The sad results are poorer and more bitter lives.

Yosef’s teacher and his wife brought their newborn daughter to the siyum. Since my husband’s late parents were also part of the web of connection with our students and friends, four generations were spiritually present at the celebration. That kind of safety net cannot be equaled no matter how many billions of dollars a government spends.

What happens when society collapses?
What happens before society collapses?

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36 thoughts on “Masked Strangers: a COVID Cost”

  1. Brad in Moab Utah

    Defying the masking of America is an opportunity to poke a thumb in the eye of the New World Control. I hope we don’t waste it.

  2. Hi Susan and Rabbi:
    What you and most of the comments say about the masks is so true. The CDC put out a study in May of this year that said the following:
    “Here, we review the evidence base on the effectiveness of nonpharmaceutical personal protective measures and environmental hygiene measures in nonhealthcare settings and discuss their potential inclusion in pandemic plans. Although mechanistic studies support the potential effect of hand hygiene or face masks, evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza. We similarly found limited evidence on the effectiveness of improved hygiene and environmental cleaning.”

    The article is from the CDC and is found here and you may have seen it:

    If anyone wants to wear a mask for whatever reason I certainly do not fault them, as you have pointed out, but it would be nice if my choice would be respected as well. Dr. Fauci himself as been recorded saying that the masks are really nothing more than telling our neighbors that we care for them, in somewhat of a strange way. They have become the politically correct way of acting even though it is going along with the deception and is the reason Debbie and I don’t wear them except in medical settings. The other day while grocery shopping I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone episode, “In the Eye of the Beholder”, (which you can still download and watch). In the episode Donna Douglas (Ellie May from the “Beverly Hillbillies,” a beautiful young woman at the time) was attempting to have her face changed so that she could be like everyone else, but it was still unsuccessful and she was still beautiful and everyone else had pig-like noses and were afraid and taken aback from her. In the same way everyone was looking at me as if I had a pig-like nose, as I wasn’t wearing a mask, and there was something wrong with me. In reality, like the episode, I was the normal one and they all had the pig-like noses (the masks). It actually helped me so much and I went around the store with a big smile on my face thinking about the absurdity of the whole thing.
    We miss seeing you both and love the wisdom that you continue to share in your musings and emails. Thank you and may God continue to bless you both.

  3. Spot on, Mrs. Lapin! The masking mandates are very dehumanizing for society. I worry about the lasting effects on everyone, and especially for children trying to learn how to communicate and sympathize with others without seeing facial expressions.

    1. Liz, when I see schools saying that students and teachers will be masked and/or behind plexiglass you really have to wonder exactly how much education can take place is such a sterile environment.

  4. As usual, another brilliant writing. The thing I miss most about growing older (56) is the close relationships I had when I was younger. I had my grandparents, close friends of my grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors that were so close we called them “aunt” and “uncle”, kids in the neighborhood that played outside regularly, and the like. I never felt alone. Holidays were so special because everyone visited and celebrated together as one large, extended family. They were the best times of my life. It reminds me of a line from Downton Abbey where Carson, the butler, says, “Memories are the business of life because in the end, that’s all that’s left.” I connected with your post, but not over the masks. It was the part about how good connecting with others is rather than a government trying to fulfill the “human” element. Society, indeed, loses something very great, very special when we lose those close, human bonds.

    1. Claire, what you are describing is much of what irks me when I see calls for facilitating women in the workforce. Women in the home and community served a vital function and there is a real societal and monetary value to that function even if they are unpaid.

  5. Susan, it’s astonishing how apt your thoughts are. I too used to think of an errand like going to the supermarket as neutral at worst and usually pleasant. Now it is an ordeal. Here is what happened to me just yesterday.

    I was buying only two or three items. The checkout girl asked me if I needed a bag. I said I wouldn’t need one. I paid. I was then at the far end of the checkout stand, well away from the checker. I started to put my items in my own bag I carry. The checker told me I had to put my purchases in my bag OUTSIDE. Baffled, I said, “Huh? Why?” She said it was the COVID policy, the guideline. But again I asked, “But why? That doesn’t make sense. I’m not asking you to do it, I’m doing it.” Suddenly a security guard was in my face, looming over me, telling me I had to go outside. I asked why. He said because it was the policy. I said, “So you’re saying it is the policy because it is the policy.” He said yes. I said he wasn’t making sense using a circular argument. It was starting to get weird and uncomfortable. It had started with my merely, and politely, asking why I couldn’t put my two or three small purchases in my own bag without going outside, and now I was suddenly being treated as a troublemaker and making a scene! At that point a manager appeared. He seemed more reasonable and at least listened to my simple question with a degree of respect. He gave me a complicated answer that seemed awfully loaded with bizarre possibilities of things that allegedly could happen if people bag their own items, but at least he was rational and reasonable, so I said, “Fine, thank you for at least giving me a logical answer”, and I left the store, realizing the encounter was becoming almost traumatic. All from a simple question about a seemingly inexplicable store policy. Now I don’t even want to go back to that store, where I have shopped for years.

    1. Mark, your story is so sad on many accounts. I feel for the checker who may very well have felt that her job was on the line. She was given orders and whether or not they made sense, she is following what her boss said. The security guard similarly isn’t paid to be a judge or juror, just to keep things running smoothly. The manager’s job is to use his head, but again, he risks the government getting involved if they don’t follow orders. And all you wanted to do was buy some groceries using the bag that the government has spent months telling you will save the planet!

  6. I don’t really like the masks. For me, wearing one is very uncomfortable to my sensitive skin, and they rarely fit properly due to the shape of my face and ears. The personal element of seeing other humans is lost with the wearing of a mask. Why do you think so many thieves and other criminals wear masks when they commit a crime? For the express purpose of not being recognized! That said, I had a wonderful encounter with a mask-wearing doctor the other day. He was very pleasant, and even though I couldn’t see the expression of his face in general, his eyes smiled. I could clearly see care, concern, humor, intelligence, and competence in his eyes and his demeanor as we talked and as he examined me. It was refreshing after seeing so many people – masked or not – who seem to be almost hopeless during this ordeal. Maybe the eyes truly are the windows to the soul. Perhaps if we make a great effort to express our caring through our eyes and actions, the mouth and nose coverings will be less of an issue. “Social distancing” will not be so much “social” as it is physical distancing.

    1. Sonia, I’m so glad that you had a good experience with your doctor. Real smiles do reach the eyes and perhaps we all have to make an effort to plaster bigger and brighter smiles on our faces so that they can be seen through our other features.

  7. I remember that article very well because it left an impression upon my heart. I recognize the need for family, friends, neighbors and the community to depend on each other in this way. A healthy relationship between each people group function like the cells of tissue perform to create organs. Each organ in the body operating interdependently at its optimum capability all to maximize the full potential of the human. It is not by accident you were able to capture this so well. I am always delighted to be enlightened by your wisdom!!!!

    1. Wow, Janet. That Musing was such a long time ago. I’m honored that it made an impression.

  8. All of the comments here tell me I am in good company— a community. In my mandated, state-ordered mask I feel like a stranger in my own small town. I am anxious, I feel that sense of shame mentioned by another commenter. I am in a rush to get back outside. And I think about small children and babies in child care centers who will spend all day looking at a masked caregiver… Mrs. Lapin, thank you for this Musing. Every time I hear someone say, “It’s just a mask,” I think to myself (in bold, underlined italics), “Oh no it’s not. It’s much more.”

    1. Kristyn, I do hope that one good thing that comes out of this virus is fewer children in daycare. You are so right. Babies and small children need to see smiles and faces – they are born with an attraction to the human face.

  9. I did not realize that I too experience the aura of shame that Terry mentioned; and I want to ponder more as Mrs. Lapin said. I think this might be one of the unseen side effects that feed our fear and deprecation regarding the mask mandate.

    1. Katherine, I’m finding this so interesting. I can’t say I have felt shame, but clearly it is an emotion that people are feeling.

  10. Dear Susan,
    Are we not being controlled? We are under unimaginable violelence from anarchists and afraid to speak favorably toward the government even though they are presently the only barrier for our freedom.

    When can we be treated as neighbors with value?

    The mask is not the only issue but just something to hide our real problem. We need the Ancient Jewish Wisdom to return to our institutions and the Commandmenrs taught once again.
    The present generation is spoiled and behaving like a generation of vipers stinging authority and disrespecting every moral code.
    NYC should be electing a new governor who respects life and the commands from The Word.
    Thank you for so much inspiration.

    1. Joan, as you say there is much wrong. Whatever the current generation parrots, it is the legacy of the universities and culture being taken over by a troubling and troubled older generation. There are many young people seeing the light ( Don’t write off the young people – we need them.

  11. Our weekly grocery shopping trip has changed from a mostly enjoyable and leisurely trip, to something that we get over with as soon as possible.
    It is hard to breathe, fogs our glasses and, as you had said, limits our interactions with the clerks and fellow shoppers.
    The mask wearing carries with it an aura of shame somehow, not sure why. As soon as I can I remove it and am thankful for the unimpeded flow of fresh air into my nostrils.

    1. Terry. Absolutely! I don’t browse the aisles anymore. I run in, get what’s on my list and run out. That’s an interesting idea about shame. I want to ponder that.

      1. Susan, perhaps the shame comes from a sense of being part of a controlled mass of humanity. We need to buy food, therefore we don the mandated mask on our face. Our identity is hidden, our personality and our emotions are now unknowable to others.

        1. I think there is something to what you say, Terry. Does this mean that people who believe they are saving other people from getting sick are proud rather than ashamed?

          1. The mask is now the visual aid used to keep us fearful of this virus, despite evidence that it is not nearly as dangerous to the population overall.
            It is also a prop to virtue signaling, just as kneeling to the anthem or wearing ribbons. No practical help to those they are supposedly advocating for.

          2. Terry, I can argue both sides of the aisle on this one. I do think masking has become a political prop and tool as it is being used now and certainly the statistics are untrustworthy. I also think that there is a real role for masks as there is for physical distancing. As in so many cases, when something is taken to an extreme and overtaken by secondary and tertiary concerns, the valid part of the equation gets lost. The higher the hypocrisy and falsehood level, the more true things get sacrificed.

  12. So true. Thank you for this article. Hard for me not to elaborate more on the contradictory nature of the information re: this virus from the start but I won’t say more. In any case, the masking mandates make it very difficult to maintain high quality human relationship time, as you stated so clearly. The face shields are a bit better in that, at least, one can read lips better if one is hearing impaired, and see others’ facial expressions, and breathe better if wearing the face shield instead. Unfortunately, the face shields are not allowed everywhere.

    1. Martha, this is a very difficult situation for those who rely on lip-reading. And, personally, while, thank God, my hearing is fine, I still have trouble understanding everyone. My point stands independent of all the contradictory information. As you say, masks interfere with the quality of human relationships. When we have to do something, for example, amputate a limb, we can recognize the pain and cost of missing that limb even if we know that it is necessary.

  13. I feel similarly about the masks. The science on their “effectiveness” is debatable and in no way “settled”. It appears to be more about “political science” than any other. Our faces provide a window into our souls. A smile…a wink…a random expression bring joy to us as this nonverbal communication teaches us more about one another. Masks have always symbolized hiding and not seeking to be known. The masks are training us to be less human…less connected. It has taken on a cult-like persona. In seeking to maintain “life” at all costs, we have forgotten how to actually live. Life is more than mere existence. It is a combination of the relationships, hopes, faith, and simple joys that give our lives meaning. The masks serve as a barrier to such experiences.

    1. Marlon, I had a sentence in the Musing that I took out because I didn’t want to get into the “mask debate.” What I wrote is true whether or not the masks are helpful or necessary or helpful and necessary in all the places they are being required. There are unintended consequences to everything, including things that are necessary. It is good to be aware of those consequences.

      1. Kendall Rodgers

        I certainly understand not wanting to enter the debate but the why I think is very important. If that is not known then how can there be trust? If no trust, how can there be relationships. And now we are back to the Musing. Trust is very important to relationships of all kinds and trust is being massacred on a very large scale. Relationships do slip into ill repair from disuse and misuse and must be up kept and repaired. Fear and distrust has been created and is highly toxic. Truth I believe to be a strong tonic against fear and helps to reestablish trust. I have to say your article identifies a very necessary deep felt truth that is very good of you to have addressed. What is life without living? Living is giving. Karen and Sharon (carin’ and sharin’). Two girls that always complement each other.

    2. Certainly one of the goals of some mask advocates is to eliminate any debate about their effectiveness. Anyone expressing skepticism is immediately labeled as “uncaring” or “selfish”. Where are the carefully controlled studies on mask safety and effectiveness that were demanded for hydroxychloroquine? Marlon is correct in stating that a lot of the reason for these mask mandates is political. I believe it will be a very long time before the mask requirements are rescinded, if ever. While the masks suck much of the joy out of daily life for most of us, they also cause very serious problems for many people with mental and addiction problems.

      1. Hans, I worry that we are far past the point when most Americans trusted the majority of those in government to mostly behave for the good of the country rather than for self-serving political purposes.

    3. I agree whole heartedly with Marion. Every time I go to the store, I get very sad:, sad enough that I don’t enjoy shopping any longer . I watch the faces of those that exit the stores and there’s emptiness in their expressions. No more smiles ! So very, very disturbing for sure.

      1. Priscilla “Chava”

        The feeling while grocery shopping is eery, and feels like death. I helped in nursing my grandfather as a young teen. Just after he had passed, I walked into his room, and immediately felt that the room was empty. His body still lay on the bed, but his soul had departed, and it could be felt without even looking. While grocery shopping, I have the same feeling. Everyone is afraid of each other, is frightened to talk to each other. I wake each morning as if from a horrible nightmare, and then realize that it is not a nightmare, it is true. My fellow Americans have agreed together that slavery, chains, and “safety” are better than life. My hearts aches and breaks for my 5 little children. I fight so hard to teach them Torah, to love each other, and to love others, but for what? Is it all in vain? We read them stories of the sages of Ancient Jewish Wisdom, times when the world was cold and dark. My husband and I sit and study the world map, and research, looking for a place to raise our children, where those around them don’t revel in death and fear. But it seems that every nation on earth has succumbed to this new tyranny. My only way of survival is to not read the news, but to let my husband shoulder that burden. I read daily from the life of Henny Machlis, and live on the joyful energy of her life. We read stories from Chelm at night to the children when the world is too dark. We are so thankful for the Jewish people, for not letting the light of Torah go out, for all these many thousands of years! We grew up Christian, became missionaries, and then through the reading of the Tanak, have become Noahide. We will be always grateful for the light that still shines in the world, because of Jews like you. May Mashiach come speedily in our days!

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