Maskcents

I hope that I always remember the scent of wearing a mask: warm, soft, slightly humid, breathy. It’s not appealing, exactly, but it’s not gross either; it’s more like the olfactory equivalent of the taste of a medicine. I like the scent inasmuch as perceiving it tells me that I have my mask on, which is usually the right thing to do. And I’m used to the smell enough now that it fades away after a few minutes. This afternoon, I almost tried to take a drink through my mask, I’d gotten so used to it!

Masking

Wearing a facemask is by far the strangest, most ordinary, and most indelible part of the coronavirus pandemic. In the past couple weeks, I’ve finally habituated myself to putting a mask around my neck as I leave the house for work or errands or whatever, and pulling it up anytime I’m in a place where it’s required (work, Target, Imminent, Little Joy, the grocery store) or where it’s just a good idea (almost anywhere else). It’s still a little weird to have my face covered for so much of the day, but the weirdness fades a little every day.

The ubiquity of masks in my life and everyone else’s right now (even the lives of the covid-deniers!) contrasts sharply with their total absence before about March – except on the faces of a few Asian students or elderly people. From that standstill till now, about six months later, we’ve seen masks and mask culture expand into almost every facet of public life. They’re a big and interesting business now, for one things, available everywhere from Target or Walmart to Amazon or mom-and-pop shops to niche manufacturers or crafters. I must have about ten masks right now, a few handmade, some standard ear-loop mass-market, a couple high-end nearly-custom ones. (The last work the best.)

Masks are also a point of personal pride, civic duty, and political controversy. Places that have mandated masks teem with signs to remind people to wear them and why they should wear them. On social media, mask wearers talk about how they wear masks not for themselves, but for others. Covid-deniers reject the practice and the science and the responsibility, often conflating masks with some sort of social control by… someone: the government? doctors? Bill Gates? The logic escapes me, as does the resistance – wearing a mask is almost effortless! But at this crazed moment in American history, everything has to be charged to the highest possible pressure, and masks are no different.

RIP, Mary

Today Shannon and I had the privilege of attending the funeral for our longtime neighbor, Mary Erickson, who died last Saturday at age 95.

As her obituary shows, Mary was a wonderful person, someone who exuded calm and quiet happiness. She was a devout Christian, and the sermon at her funeral made clear that she lived her faith in an exemplary way. We experienced that in her exceptional generosity. She stopped over frequently to drop off books for Shannon (though fortysomething stay-at-home moms don’t necessarily enjoy all the same books as octogenarian widows!), magazines for me (she loved National Geographic and knew I did too), and many gifts for the girls, from birthday and Christmas presents to random things she thought they’d enjoy – dolls, books, even an entire toy house that they indeed loved.

She was also an amazingly active and tough old woman. Well into her eighties, she was still gardening, filling bird feeders, and retrieving her own garbage bins. I fondly recall how she was a bit embarrassed when I or another neighbor would shovel her sidewalk. And even past 90, she’d come out to her driveway to watch the girls shoot baskets, clapping when they made an especially good shot.

After hearing that she’d died, I realized that Mary was our neighbor for longer than any other neighbor I’ve ever had – eight years. We’ll remember her beautiful kindness for much longer than that.