To Wear, or Not to Wear

  • Posted: February 1, 2022
  • Category: Blog
  • 3 Comments
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They say that hope springs eternal. True enough, but a truth more complex. Time enters into the equation as well. Farmers know that crops spring up best if planted at the right time – springtime. January is the springtime for hope. Two years past, 2020, was a very strange land. Hope sprang up in January of 2021 for a return to “normal”. What we got was . . . well, let’s just say it wasn’t what we hoped for.

The lesson for me from the year past is that “normal” isn’t coming back. At some point in time, perhaps in 6 months, perhaps in twenty years, a new settled state of affairs will return, a new settled state of affairs that will be the “new normal”. Perhaps even a respect for the law might return and in so doing, bring with it a renewed obedience.

At the risk of appearing pedantic (ha ha), I like the word interregnum for 2022. Interregnum literally means “between kings”, with its modern definition being – “a gap in the social order”. The word came into fashion as a descriptive name for an English era during the mid 1600’s. Charles I, a Catholic king at odds with his militant Protestant aristocracy, lost his head in 1649 and there was no king in England until his son, Charles II, ascended the throne in 1660.

But it was an Italian Marxist in the days before Mussolini who defined the word, interregnum, most meaningfully for our own day. Antonio Gramsci put it this way:

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

What more can be said about the times, the times we might call the Covid Interregnum? The old normal in America is dying while the new struggles to be born. Have we seen the appearance of “morbid symptoms”?

Interregnum is a time of uncertainty, frequently of extremes. England’s interregnum had no king but instead a dictator, though Oliver Cromwell preferred the title of Lord Protector. The Covid Interregnum, if I might call it that, has so far simply thrown up a clown car, with a diverse assemblage of humorless comedians masquerading as leaders. One is hesitant to venture a guess as to what might emerge in the future.

Whatever else one might say about Marxist’s, they have a way with words. It was Karl Marx himself who said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, and then as farce.” I leave you to pick out where 2022 stands in that continuum.

Of course I regret the passing of “normal”. It had its problems, but I knew its rhythms. I was comfortable in its nature. I picture myself as Rex Harrison in that scene from “My Fair Lady”, expressing my feelings about that lost normal” in slightly altered lyrics:

“I’ve grown accustomed to its pace

It almost makes the day begin

I’ve grown accustomed to the tune that

It whistles night and noon.

Its smiles, its frowns

Its ups, its downs

Are second nature to me now

Like breathing out and breathing in.”

 

Yes, but unlike Eliza Doolittle, I fear yesterday’s “normal” is gone for good, joining 16th Century England down the rabbit hole. What we remember as normal is the retreating coastline of a country once lived in. We are emigrants venturing out on an uncharted ocean to a new continent. The old country is gone. We face out, looking to the new country, wondering what we will find there, daring to hope in this January of 2022.

The old country was a pleasant place and it will be missed. But it was a place increasingly uncomfortable, ill at ease with its new tenants. America’s cultural ethic, the old “normal”, was designed for a different place and time than today’s diverse mix of Adorables, Deplorables and Millennials. America has grown accustomed to both security and prosperity, a state of mind foreign to its former stoic Protestant morality. Like the proverbial farm boy seeking to make his fortune in New York City, America self-consciously jettisoned our rustic culture and now seeks to emulate the sophisticated cosmopolitan ethics of older and “wiser” cultures.

On some deeply personal level, I understand. I started a company in my basement that grew over the years into something much larger. In an organization numbering hundreds of employees, things are different than in an organization of a few dozen. The people who fit well into the small organization scratching for existence are not the same people thriving in a large and prosperous one.

The culture is different. The skill sets of the successful are different. The politics is different. A certain confidence, one might call it incipient arrogance, replaces the earlier can-do hunger. Success brings growth and along with that success, new and uncomfortable realities. Attempting to deal with these changed circumstances in old ways, whether in Oval Office, executive suite or front line, invites ruin even as it breeds hypocrisy.

The old culture, the old “normal”, confines and constricts that which needs to change, and like a snake struggling to free itself from its old skin it breaks free. It is always a time of crisis, with careers rising and falling, relationships fragmenting and forming. Growth and success are what we hope for, what we work for, but be careful what you wish for.

As my own company grew, my attachment to it changed. I loved my company, how could I not as it was my own flesh and blood, and yet as it grew I found that I liked both it and myself less and less. I fear that my feelings for my country mirror that same earlier transformation. I love it, but it is harder and harder to like America.

The Covid Interregnum is only a wordsmith’s convenient tag for a tectonic shifting of the cultural plates that has been underway for some time. But Covid has brought those faults to the surface and shoved them onto our faces.

Even as our masks hide our face, they reveal the interregnum. Any civil society requires a sense of propriety, of manners, else anarchy reigns. Unless one seeks to be a recluse, the very act of living in and among other human beings requires a sense of normal behavior that all accept and adhere to. But now we have the facemask and that sense of propriety is nowhere to be found.

To wear the mask or not to wear the mask? As a man of advanced years and hopefully meaningful experience, I find the case for wearing masks dubious to say the least. The protocols that have come into being around their use render the flaccid reasoning behind their use even more tenuous. But then I see people, driving in their car with closed windows, wearing a mask.

I am drawn to a life of solitary existence, imagining myself channeling Jeremiah Johnson in another time and place, but the reality of wife and family prevent my succumbing to the fantasy. It is something they have been doing for some decades now, i.e. preventing me from succumbing to my various fantasies. But as a result of their existence and efforts, I am out and among the masked and unmasked every day. And among the masked and unmasked, the reality of the interregnum is obvious.

The small crucifix on a chain around one’s neck is a common ornamentation for Catholics, a signifier of membership in the Catholic Church. In the interregnum of 17th Century England, this small cross signaled an allegiance to the executed Charles I and his family while it’s absence declared one a Protestant, a supporter of Lord Cromwell. Consciously or unconsciously, the crucifix around one’s neck said a great deal about the wearer that had little to do with Jesus Christ or Christianity.

A facemask in the America of 2022 is in the same order or things. One has to be somewhat oblivious to fail to notice the blinking neon sign that is the Covid mask. Mask compliance at REI is very different than at Cabela’s, Starbuck’s is a different mask experience than at the local diner. I went to the Denver Stock Show last Saturday. At the rodeo and at the exhibits, there were thousands of people, elbow to elbow, a great crush of people in enclosed spaces.

Given my pathological need to stereotype, I would guess that a great percentage of those attending the Stock Show to be members of the Deplorable tribe. Masks in certain neighborhoods and venues are a relative rarity, even in Denver, a city dominated by Adorables and Millennials strongly committed to the protocols and rites of the Church of Covid.

Masks say a great deal about culture, about education, about social class, about the manners and customs of Adorables, Deplorables, and Millennials. Mask enforcement also says a great deal about the individual venue’s dependence on the good will of governmental minions.

But even as I style myself a Deplorable, I do live among the Adorables. In my mind, I cannot help but see the face mask as an outward and visible sign of everything that is turning my beloved country into something I really don’t like. Yet I want to be civil, to be polite, to accord with the norms for social behavior even though they are no longer agreed upon.

William Shakespeare did not live long enough to see the English Interregnum, but his lifetime was in the shadow of time leading to it. He was well aware of the unsettled currents roiling the “English normal” leading up to it. Perhaps the words of Hamlet, his most well known character, reflect the dilemma I and most everyone else not baptized in the Church of Covid faces:

“To wear, or not to wear, that is the question:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the day to suffer

The slings and arrows of outraged logic

Or to take arms against the Adorable’s fatuous affectations”

It is not that I do not fear Covid. I have friends who came near death, others to whom Covid delivered a coup de grace, hastening their departure from this life. Perhaps I have been an asymptomatic sufferer. Perhaps not. I have been vaccinated because it made sense. I have not been tested as it made no sense.

But despite the dangers of Covid, it is my sense that masks make no sense. And there are tremendous long term costs to their mythical acceptance. But as to polite behavior in the Covid Interregnum, who is to say? Many of past norms in polite behavior make no sense. Did it ever make sense for men to open doors for women? It was simply polite behavior, showing respect for physical and social difference. Should mask wearing be any different?

I went to Costco the other day. Before the Age of Covid, its sampling menu made it a favorite lunch stop. Our Costco is definitely a Church of Covid site, featuring active solicitation coupled with schoolmarm facial expressions at the entrance. But while customers and staff were uniformly masked, there was one unmasked gentleman shopping this afternoon. Striding proudly through the store, he sported a bright red hat declaring his allegiance to Jesus as well as a large cross in pendent fashion from his neck, though face bereft of mask.

One wonders at his Christian witness that day. Did he reflect the life and teaching of the man he claimed to love? Was he of winsome character, drawing people to him that they might seek succor in the arms of Christ? I wonder at his thoughts on St. Paul’s words in his First Letter to the Corinthians about using one’s freedom in such a way that it causes other believers to stumble.

During the English Interregnum, that precursor to our own, those such as Catholics, Protestants and even Puritans confused their citizenship in this world with their eternal citizenship. Would an outside observer make the same observations about American Christians in the Covid Interregnum?

When I think about masks, I hope to remember that same Paul the Apostle’s words to believers in the City of Corinth:

“Though I am free, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

To the Jews I become like a Jew. To those under the law I become like one under the law, even though I am free, to win those under the law.

To those without the law I became like one without the law, though I am under the law of Christ, to win those outside the law.”

I hope to remember Christ’s teaching, Paul’s words, sometimes I succeed. But then, hope does spring eternal.

3 Responses to “To Wear, or Not to Wear”

  1. Russell G Kyncl says:

    I doubt the mask has much effect, especially with my beard assisting in airflow around it. I do wear it, in part as a courtesy to the patients coming into my building to see their pulmonary doctors. I hate to give anyone who needs to see a pulmonary doc any further stress or worry. At Diane’s church, which I will leave nameless in public comment, there is a sign on the door reminding all that enter that Jeffco is under a mask mandate, winky wink. I estimate 1% compliance. In the New Testament, we are told to submit to civil authorities. The specific authorities named ruled by terror with 1st Century tech. It’s been interesting to see the impact of this whole experience–people seem more fragile, prone to extremes, on all sides.

  2. Russell G Kyncl says:

    May I suggest a couple of yogi updates?
    “I never said half the things that I said?”
    “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”
    I don’t know if the above are things he said, or that he didn’t say, but they sound legit. On a more important topic, where did you get that lovely t-shirt on irony, Stalin, and food? I thought it might be fun to see if anybody at the Rec center gets it.

  3. Terry Todd says:

    Keep on hoping, Bill!

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