THE EXISTENTIAL DILEMMA OF MASKING

“If you invest in the marriage of the inner and outer worlds by putting honest energy into dreaming a dream on, all the people in your life, maybe the whole of humankind, is enriched, though it may not produce the result your ego was seeking. This is a saint’s task, clarifying a bit of the collective unconscious for the good of all humanity.”

–Robert A. Johnson, “Living Your Unlived Life: Coping with Unrealized Dreams and Fulfilling Your Purpose in the Second Half of Life”

Johnson was an American Jungian analyst. And fulfilling my purpose in the second half of life is a goal much on my mind these days.

One noteworthy example of the attempt to marry my inner and outer lives has to do with the wearing of a mask during COVID.

My approach up to masking up to a couple of weeks ago had been this: I’ve observed a self-imposed  lockdown since March 9. I’ve stayed so close to home that I have filled my car with gas just twice during that time.

I work at home, I live alone, the parking area and yard behind my house extend half a city block and are completely open to the air, trees and sky.

Obviously if I’m at a grocery store (literally the only kind of store I have frequented since March besides bringing my watch in for a new battery), Mass (indoors for a blessed though brief time, but for the past month outdoors), or the doctor or dentist (six visits total), I happily and gratefully don a mask.

But I just haven’t been able to see my way clear to clamping a covering over my face as I deposit my recycling in the bin, or get something out of the trunk of my car, or take a walk on suburban residential streets on which I can easily go two or three blocks without passing a single other pedestrian.

I carry a mask with me on my walks and will either hop to the opposite side of the street, move to the middle of the road, and/or put on the mask when approaching or passing others.

Common sense dictates, and science bears out, that it is literally impossible to contract or to transmit a virus outdoors while not within fifty feet of another human being.

Nonetheless, last week the situation did get me to thinking on a deeper level about the concepts of humility and charity.

Good citizenship used to mean being willing to sacrifice for the greater good. In contemporary times it’s come to mean I have the right to do whatever I please and too bad if you don’t like it. Gun massacres: Sorry, Second Amendment. Music till 3 a.m.: It’s MY yard, buy some earplugs. You just burned down my small business: Tough luck, I’m an ‘activist.’

But was not my own stand a form of this self-centered reasoning? “I haven’t left my apartment, for heaven’s sake,” I wanted to tell the world.

But what if the other person, the person for example whose house I was walking by without a mask, wanted to tell the world, “My child has diabetes and is at risk.” Or “I lived through AIDS and am extra traumatized around communicable illnesses.” Or “My father’s recovering from COVID in the back bedroom.” Or just “I’m scared and upset and it makes me safer to see everyone’s wearing a mask?”

I could grit my teeth and start to wear a mask, inwardly seething, “Is everyone happy now?”

But I knew I couldn’t undergo a true change of heart without prayer.

So I prayed: to be able to see things in a new light, to wear a mask graciously. And something inside me shifted.

Before my thought had been: “I hope people don’t take offence but I simply can’t in all good conscience go along with this charade.”

Afterward my thought was: “What an easy and beautiful way to show solidarity with my fellow man! No-one likes wearing a mask but we are erring on the side of safety.”

What before had seemed an onerous practice transformed into a small act of charity that I was eager and grateful to perform.

That to me is marrying the inner and the outer. It is putting my “honest energy” into the dream of a world in which we put our personal preferences and opinions aside, in favor of the common good.

I’m positive the task is that much easier because I have “dreamed the dream” of being a writer, with all the clarifying of the collective unconscious that entails, for the last couple of decades.

Neither practice has much produced the result my ego was seeking, as Johnson warned might occur. But that’s not the point.

The point is that now, while out walking, I can pray my Rosary and no-one sees my lips moving!

I still wear lipstick though. Because God sees behind the mask–and we always want to look nice for Him.

8 Replies to “THE EXISTENTIAL DILEMMA OF MASKING”

  1. Your words are comforting, as is your example of living humility. Your masked transformation- to be reflective, rather than reactive, makes a difference to others and you may never know how, or how much. Thank you Heather.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh Marge, thank you. Really these are supernatural interventions that allow us to go against our deepest grain, ego, opinions etc–not our consciences, of course, but our egos…it seems to me the COVID numbers are going down so there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Either way, reflective rather than reactive will be our credo!

  2. I “mask up” every time I set foot outside our house (even in our own yard, the entire perimeter of which is fenced off and gated) — not so much because I fear falling prey to COVID myself but because it makes my wife feel safer and it might give our neighbors and passers-by something to think about (or to talk about, more likely: “Did you see that nut?”). Solidarity and erring on the side of safety are good things. I DO NOT wear lipstick, though … I have to draw the line somewhere, Heather.😏

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha, love it!! Okay, we’ll let you off the hook just this once, Bill. 🙂

  3. Mary McCaskill says: Reply

    Thank you for being so considerate of others. I have been praying to let go of my angry reaction to angry people who see mask wearing as an infringement of their rights. So far it is a struggle. Pray for me and all the other angry souls out there.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Right, someone is bound to be offended or to feel infringed upon or insulted no matter what you do. Culture of Grievance. Can’t we just be grateful we don’t have COVID? Thanks, Mary!

  4. I love the beautiful way you write. I wasn’t too happy staying home or wearing a mask at first. I put in God’s hands and I have been doing so much better.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Well that is the sanest and most sensible plan I’ve heard yet, Lillian! I don’t wonder it’s working well for you and am going to lean harder in that direction myself…thank you as well for the lovely compliment.

I WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS!

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