Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center
We’ve been told to wear masks in public for quite a while now. However, working from home, I don’t leave the house very often, and live in a quiet neighborhood where I can walk for an hour and not pass anyone by very closely. I got used to wearing my mask down around my chin and would only pull it up when I saw someone heading towards me. I walk a lot in my neighborhood, often two or three times a day. It’s my main exercise to vainly try to avoid the weight gain from all those extra loaves of banana bread I’m baking. As someone cleverly remarked, that’s where COVID19 got its name – from the 19 extra pounds we’ve each put on from staying at home and eating our way through the lockdown.
Back to masks. With stay-at-home restrictions eased a little bit, people are out and about more. When I go walking in the neighborhood now, I’m far more likely to encounter other walkers; so on goes the mask. The discomfort of covering my nose and mouth is balanced by how nice it is to see other human beings. “Hello,” “How are you?” “Nice Day,” are some of the pleasantries we exchange, accompanied by a smile. The smile is an instinct, so much a part of the act of greeting we hardly even know we do it. That is, until you realize you’ve got a mask on and the other person can’t see your smile.
The other day I was out walking and came to an intersection at the same time as a car. The driver stopped and waved for me to proceed, and I waved and smiled in thanks as I crossed. A totally ordinary, everyday experience. But it was then that I realized - really, really, realized - how wearing a mask obscures your face. The driver couldn’t see me smile! There was something strangely disconcerting about that, silly as it may sound. Yet another human response changed by the pandemic.
But has it changed? With my mask pulled up and my hat pulled down, my face is totally obscured. But just because my smile can’t be seen, doesn’t mean I’ll stop smiling. I smile when I’m alone. I’m smiling now as I write this, and it doesn’t matter that no one can see me. Just like the old saying about the tree falling in the forest…
There were jokes making the circuit early on in the pandemic about a returning to bowing and curtsying to replace hugs and handshakes as common greeting practice. Curtsying may be a bit too 18th century for most people but bowing is still important in many cultures and does remain a nice acknowledgement. Maybe not a deep, sweeping gesture like in a Shakespearean play, but an inclination of the head with a small bow. A way of expressing greetings and respect that can be seen despite face coverings. Accompanied, of course, by that hidden smile.