A couple of toddlers live in the house behind us, and on nice days they play outside. At least one of them is a screecher. You know what I mean – the ear-shattering, glass-breaking, piercing tone that calls to mind banshees and 1950s horror flicks.
Yesterday one of the toddlers let out a full-on scream. Not his normal howl. I’m talking from the diaphragm, fists clenched, mouth stretched wide open scream. I could see him from my office window and all I could think was “Oh, I bet that feels good. I want to scream like that.”
I had to mail a package on Monday. Everyone at the post office wore masks except for the man in front of me. I didn’t say anything. I stood ten feet behind him and judged him for his selfishness. I wanted to say something caustic, but I couldn’t summon the energy and thought “what’s the point?” Instead, I turned to the woman six feet behind me and smiled, and she smiled back. We both had on masks, but we could tell.
When that toddler screamed, when he let all of his angst out in one giant bellow, I thought of the man from the day before, the woman who pushed around me at the grocery store, the gun-toting men storming a state capitol, and I wanted to scream.
I think that’s where we’re all at right now. We’ve got so much pent up everything. Anger, fear, hope, and it’s sitting there, with nowhere to go. A scream, a belt-it-out no-holds-barred scream would feel like taking a deep breath. An aggressive cleansing. We’re holding it all in, because to let it out is to acknowledge that we’re at a loss.
What’s an alternative? We can’t all just start screaming. We’ll scare the crap out of our neighbors and loved ones. Instead of a moment of silence, maybe we should have a moment of release. A moment of volume. Maybe that would keep us from screaming at each other.
I read a story the other day about a woman who yelled at someone in the grocery store because he asked her to back up. Instead of responding in kind, he gave the cashier twenty bucks and asked her to put it towards that woman’s bill. He left, and the woman followed him in her car until he stopped. Tears in her eyes, she explained that both her husband and her son had died in the last week from COVID-19.
This story struck me because I don’t know if I would have acted with such kindness, and I would have increased her pain. I might have even screamed back.
I’m afraid I would have seen her as “one of those people,” the ones who openly, some with guns, refuse to follow basic precautions. The ones who share memes and videos without doing a shred of research, increasing the spread of misinformation and the pursuant anger and belief that this is all one big plan to control us. (I can’t even wrap my mind around that.) The ones who refuse to wear masks and accuse those who protect themselves of being afraid.
Hell yes, we’re afraid. This disease can be spread, as has been proven unequivocally, asymptomatically. I’m afraid that I could be carrying this disease, and if I don’t wear a mask I could kill someone. I’m afraid that you could be carrying, and if you push by me because you’re impatient, that you could kill me, or someone I love. I’m afraid of the blithe mask-free person just as I would be scared of getting in a car with someone who’s had too much to drink but thinks he’s fine. Thing is, I have a choice to not get in that car. I can’t make you wear a mask or wait ten seconds while I choose a bag of onions.
But, I can choose how I react to you. I can scream at you to back off. Or I can ask you nicely to please give me some space. I can let you go in front of me, since you’re in such a hurry.
I will, however, judge you for taking my life into your hands. I will be angry with you. I will pity you, because you ignore science for convenience. I will fear for you and those you love and everyone with whom you come into contact. I will hope that no one you love dies, and that you will decide that you don’t matter more than everyone else. I will hope that you haven’t killed me, or someone I love.
Sound extreme? It isn’t. This is our reality. And that makes me want to scream.
This virus has highlighted divisions, but it can also unite. Someone commented that she keeps smiling at others while she’s wearing a mask, but she doesn’t know why she bothers because nobody can see it. I told her “they can see it in your eyes.”
I’ve only been out a couple of times since masks have been required and yes, you can see people smile. You have to look for it. It’s not the casual acknowledgement of seeing lips turn up a bit. It’s a light and a crinkle.
A smile can say things words can’t. A smile that reaches the eyes, that requires effort to ensure the other person sees it, is a message of compassion. It’s a moment of volume.
We have to try harder to make that connection with another human being, but when we do, it’s a reminder that we all are in this together. Everyone experiences this differently; my boat is smaller than some and bigger than others; but to ensure the greatest number of people survive, we have to let go of our own conveniences and desires and think of others. All others.
Individualism is great. I’m stubborn and independent to a fault (Ask my husband. Or my mom.). But now, my wants don’t matter. Travel is in my blood; so is writing about it. The writing I can do, the travel not so much. I yearn for the open road. I yearn to discover new places and share their stories. If anybody wants the world to reopen, it’s a travel writer.
My wants don’t matter if what I want will kill people.
So yes, I envy that toddler. Oh, how good would it feel to clench my fists and take the biggest deepest breath I can and let it all out at the top of my lungs! What a release! And maybe I’ll take a drive into the country and do just that.
Either way, I’m going to wear my mask and I’m going to smile and you will see it in my eyes, whether you’re wearing a mask or not. Because we are all in this together, and that smile will be my moment of volume.