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Masking anxiety, showing care

  • 15 April 2020
Who knew that the greatest moral debate of our time would be whether or not to wear a mask? Having sewed my first mask many weeks ago, I’ve been following the millions of words written and spoken on the efficacy of masks, whether to wear them, who should wear them, how to use them, and how to make them. In a genre that is already bending my brain, there is a special sub-category of mask-shaming.

The polarised global debate manages to shame both mask wearers/promoters (especially where that involves medical masks for the public), and those who do not wear masks. The science, apparently, is ‘in’. On both sides.

I’m not here to mask shame. I’m not here to evaluate the science of masks in a specifically COVID-19 pandemic. (Mask efficacy for the general public is pathogen specific, I understand.) And I’m not here to promote masks or otherwise.

I simply offer the observation that my own mask ‘practice’ is a practice of love and care that exists purely in the social and not within the realms of science.

When my children were small, some days were tough. For whatever reason, school was an emotional or psychic bridge too far. But life goes on. And so, I gave them a token of my love for them. A talisman by which to remember that this too would pass, and we would be reunited. The token was a hand-made glass bead threaded on a satin ribbon. I would tie it on their little wrists, or they could carry it in their pocket. Whenever they felt the sadness or the worry surge within them, they could hold the bead. Play with it in their fingers. And be reminded that their equilibrium would soon return.

If a member of our family is sick, we have a routine of care developed also when the children were small. It includes particular food — chicken broth, fresh juice jellies — and until the kids were too old, the special mattress pulled up by our bed. Rituals designed to soothe the heart and thereby to still a fevered mind, absent the science.

These days, I knit. Knitting is a meditative activity that resolves my own angst, whilst channelling it into creating garments that themselves signify care for others. I only make shawls, or wraps. The symbolism is clear. Even when I am far away, the wrap will enfold the wearer as a sign