Quick personal back-story
When this started in the middle of March 2020, I went to the grocery store. The shelves had already been picked over and people were confused and scared. I was sharing an isle with a woman who wore a mask and gloves, back before this was a popular thing to do. I could tell, because of her attire, that she was fearful of the unknown. So I wanted to respect and share her concern, I didn’t want to worry her any more. I needed a product that was directly in front of her. I stopped my cart six feet away and asked if she minded if I reached in front of her to grab it. She was so happy that I asked, I could tell because I saw joy in her eyes, and she also told me so. I didn’t have to see her smile to know she was smiling; she backed away to allow me to get my product. She commented on what she needed and I stayed to help her look all while staying six feet away. This is a normal grocery store relationship. It was pleasant and something that happens all of the time. We smiled, laughed, and joked. She was wearing a mask and I wasn’t, we were careful and mindful of the situation and we respected each other.
Fast forward to the last week of March 2020, I was diagnosed with bronchitis, that day I became part of the vulnerable population. I self quarantined for the next 42 days.
I was so excited to be a part of the world again; on May 6 I finally decided to venture out. I needed a few groceries so I planned on stopping at two stores, a small meat market, for meat, and a larger chain store for just three extra items. My last experience at the store was the one I just shared.
Walking in to the first store I realized that I had forgotten that “they” were recommending masks for everyone now. In my county it is not mandatory it is a recommendation. So I foolishly thought that meant we had a choice. Everyone was masked up except me and the only thing that I could see were foreheads and eyes. Their foreheads were wrinkled, their brows were furrowed which caused a crease at the top of their nose, and their eyes were narrowed. In other words they were frowning and frowning always means anger. I felt this for sure. I felt massively judged. Most people believe that this shames people into doing what they want. It doesn’t. The problem is the anger that they were displaying, made them feel it more intensely. This engaged my special mirroring neurons which caused me to show anger, which also made me feel it more intensely. However, I know better so I was able to recognize what was happening and adjust to the situation, so I consciously smiled, and I felt better. However, their anger towards me was a conscious act directed to me specifically. My smile to them was a conscious act directed back at them, and when you smile when others are displaying anger it only angers them more. Not reciprocating an emotion makes the sender feel misunderstood; believing the receiver is not validating their feelings. Since I was not mirroring their emotion they felt betrayed and misunderstood. They would not mirror my smile; their emotion was too intense. So I turned away.
What I noticed that the others didn’t was all of the other health violations that were happening in this little meat market. Like the elderly employee that kept his gloves on while he pulled down his mask, blew his nose then pulled the same mask up over his nose before going back to his work of packaging food for purchase without changing his gloves. You could accuse me of violating a recommendation but he was violating all kinds of health codes even in normal times. I did a quick survey of the room to see if anyone had noticed, they hadn’t, they were all still staring me down.
I received my order from the butcher, who wore his mask under his nose, and then waited for my turn at the check out counter. The woman at the counter very sweetly greeted me when it was my turn. I placed my food on the same counter that the previous customers food had been placed without it being wiped down. The cashier was wearing gloves, the same pair she wore when she helped the person in front of me. She touched all of my food, her computer, then bagged everything up for me. There was no card reader at the counter so she took my card from my hand, ran it and handed it back to me. She finished my transaction by touching her computer screen again, grabbed my receipt, handed it to me all while wearing the same pair of gloves and wiping nothing down. She then greeted the customer behind me and the process started again, without changing her gloves.
The point is this, while I was being stared down, anger was developing on the faces of the others and increasing in strength inside of them. I kept a smile on my face so not to catch their anger, this only contributed to their anger. They didn’t bother to look around and realize that I truly was the least of the problems in that store on that day.
To end the story things were not any better at the other store, and no I did not put on a mask. I was stared down and anger was displayed everywhere. While looking for my first purchase two folks with masks broke the six-foot rule and stood pretty close to me. I smiled. At one point I picked up the wrong item and had to replace it, so I used the handy wipes I picked up at the front door to wipe the item down before restocking. Is this something that everyone does? On my way across the store to check out, I passed an elderly gentleman, he stopped his cart, and stared at me as I walked passed him, six feet away. He wore a mask and his anger was evident in his eyes. I made it to self checkout, alive, and waited for someone to wipe down the card reader and touch screen before I used It but no one came so I used my handy wipes again to do it. I completed my transaction and got out of there, surprisingly all in one piece.
I made it home but felt miserable. I had been so happy to get out of the house that day and to see people, even just strangers at the grocery store. But I was judged harshly, and misunderstood, the only thing they saw was a mask-less face. They did not see my smile, they did not see that I was sanitizing, keeping my distance, and had been under a doctor’s care for the last month. They just saw that I wasn’t doing what they wanted or expected me to do so they were angry. I would even go so far as to say that at that moment they hated me.
I then opened up my neighbor-to-neighbor app to find some solace from my own neighbors. I was greeted with posts from pro-maskers belittling and judging anti-maskers, along with anti-maskers giving it right back. The comments were riddled with hatred from both sides. My feeling of sadness did not go away until I completely isolated myself from society and social media. The next time I went out I knew what to expect and I prepared myself accordingly, I sanitized, disinfected, kept my distance, and smiled.