It was a trip to Walmart, of all places, that made me think that maybe, just maybe, we might be able to eventually pull ourselves up and out of this deep, dark place.
It was there I saw a little girl gleefully standing in a cart as a woman pushed her through the aisles. It made me smile, but neither the little girl nor the woman could see it under the mask I was wearing, a requirement to enter the building. It wasn’t until I looked up to make eye contact with the woman pushing the girl’s cart, and maybe share a veiled smile, that I saw her mask. It said: “Keep America Great!” Instead of turning my smile upside down, it made me smirk. While I’m not exactly sure what’s so great in 2020 that we would actually want more of it, I care far more about wearing a mask than what is printed on it. Masks are among the few tools that will help us get through and crawl our way out of this devastating (and deadly) Covid-19 outbreak.
Oh, what’s that you say? You were an early adopter of the face coverings? It’s been great to have you with us for a while! New to the party and you totally didn’t want to accept the invitation and you even wrote some nasty things to retailers who required them because the government didn’t? You’re here now and that’s the most important part!
Reminder: We’re still learning about this virus. Science isn’t fast. It’s deliberate and methodical and peer reviewed. That’s what makes it science. And science eventually told us that masks would help slow the spread of the virus. But with that science came the screaming. While I haven’t witnessed such shouting matches, I have silently simmered a few times. In early June, after finishing a trip to the store and walking to my car, I was so upset about so many people not wearing masks that all I could think to do was to turn on Meek Mill and turn the volume way up.
We’re a few months removed from my gangster rap therapy session and now most retailers — and 34 states — have mask mandates. While people (and a few dogs) are getting the message and wearing them, the shame game has continued for those who won’t. News flash: That approach isn’t a good one. It doesn’t really help and it shouldn’t feel good.
After all, it’s been eight years since we first heard, and learned, about shame from the incomparable Brené Brown. Even with that time and attention, we’re also neck deep in the ultimate shame spiral: cancel culture. How do those two things happen at the same time? Maybe it’s because a lot of us, including me, were raised in the shame game. The rules of the shame game: Point the finger at someone else and get them before they get you. Bonus points for getting others to point with you.
While we know this pandemic will end, we don’t know when it will be … or what “the end” will look like. We’re all in it right now, figuring out the next step as it appears in front of us with new data. Because of that, now — maybe more than ever — we have to be compassionate and kind and patient and understanding. The only way to build an army to fight the spread of the virus is to welcome new members along the way, not remind them how long it took them to get there.
That woman in Walmart? Maybe she wasn’t wearing a mask a week ago when the country added another 60,000 cases of Covid-19, but she was the day I saw her. And I was happy she joined the team that will help way more people than just one political party or one gender or one race. Maybe the President and Congress should look around and remember the same.
Amy Bailey was a member of the Michigan Capitol Press Corps from 2000-2006. She lives and works in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with her husband, son and an easily excitable Australian Shepherd named Max. Amy's guest column, Something to Say, publishes periodically. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.