What is Normal?
We live in extraordinarily unusual times. Changes are coming faster than we can process in our minds. Things that would never have been a consideration of ours just months ago now command full page articles in national media.
For instance, the Wall Street Journal’s Sunday edition this past week had a full-page article rating 50 different face masks. Face masks! How far off our radar screen was such a thought last Winter?
We are moving through phases in accepting certain new normals. We initially argued about whether masks were necessary or not. One congressman even suggested he might have contracted COVID-19 because he wore a mask. You cannot make this stuff up.
More and more states are requiring masks in public spaces. National companies are increasingly requiring customers to wear a mask before they enter their stores. A sign requiring masks on a Walmart entrance will cause infinitely more people to cover up than a politician repeating technical data about the pros and cons of masks.
I have sensed more people’s acceptance of facial masks over the last couple of months. That is partially due to the acceleration of positive cases in our rural area. There is nothing that will dispel the virus as a hoax quicker than a relative or friend that becomes seriously ill. Not to mention the growing list of those we know that have died due to the pandemic.
The widespread use of masks, hand sanitizer, and the washing of hands should never have been so complicated. It takes a bit of practice. It takes some acceptance of your responsibility in protecting those you love as well as those you do not even know.
Then, ever so slowly, you sense that we might be making progress. That was my reaction to the Journal’s article on Sunday past. The rating of the masks was not just about how effective they might be in preventing the spread of the Coronavirus. It was about style. What is cool and sophisticated and what is not? What is the best material? The best technology?
As a country, we have moved from frantically trying to find a mask of any kind to being overwhelmed with the variety of masks now available anywhere from pharmacies to hardware stores. This does not take into account the hundreds of face coverings available online.
NPD, a market research firm, called the manufacturing of facial masks one of the biggest short-term booms of a wearable product ever. Think of it as sweatpants that can save your life.
The WSJ considered fit, style, material, and breathability in its evaluations. As an increasingly frequent user of masks, I can vouch for the fit and breathability importance. Some are too small for my big head. Some fold my ears down because they are too tight. Some can cause you to almost gasp for breath with undue exertion.
As for the style component, I have limited myself to basic colors and those masks honoring my Auburn Tigers. Increasingly available in support of your favorite school or political candidate, masks have become big business, churning out profits as well as becoming walking billboards.
I try to wear a mask where I cannot socially distance. I use enough hand sanitizer to cause the skin on my hands to crack. I wash my hands more than I was taught in grade school health classes.
Believe it or not, it is becoming normal. Not just with me, but with others that I see everywhere I go. That is the most encouraging sign since this whole crazy mess began.
There is so much we cannot control these days. Take comfort in what you can control, even if it does not feel so normal to begin with. Practice makes perfect.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org