“Judge Not, O Ye Masked or Mask-less Ones!”

“Sheltering in place.”

Just for the record, it might be worth mentioning that “sheltering in place” is what we’re not doing.

Forgive me, please. I am far too much in love with freedom to turn anyone over to the Covid-19 police. I won’t be scowling at you if I meet you pushing your basket the wrong way down the jelly aisle at the supermarket. Besides that, it’ll probably be me swimming upstream; I seem to be clueless when it comes to noticing arrows on floors.

Nor will I cast a masked smirk at you if I see you mask-less behind your cart, becalmed in the aisle, not moving in any direction as you “ponder in place,” wondering whether store brand green beans are as good as Libby’s (pretty much, yes) or generic peanut butter is as tasty as Peter Pan’s (not even close.) In the state where I live, you can still make your own decision about that. Not peanut butter. Masks.

So far, I’ve consistently chosen to take a mask with me every time I’ve gone to the grocery store. And I’ve consistently chosen to keep it in my pocket. Mostly because we’ve had just handful of Covid-19 cases in our county and half a handful have already recovered. I know this could change quickly, and that’s probably a good reason to wear a mask at the store. Would I wear a mask in a store in New York City? Yes, indeed. Would I wear a mask at a store in a much smaller less virus-besieged city if everybody else in the store wore a mask? Probably so. We may not have achieved “herd immunity,” but I’m still part of a herd.

In this strange time, what is a customer saying if he or she walks into a store or church or “essential business” liquor store masked or mask-less (and is not robbing the latter)? I mean, what’s he saying in a city where no laws are in place about masks or, for that matter, whether you can buy a 32-ounce soda?

I don’t know. And neither do you. I think we’d be wise to “judge not, lest ye be judged.” We don’t know if the masked person is sick, medically compromised, careful, neurotic, wise, scared, smart, smug, self-righteous, considerate, “virtue-signaling,” a wonderful and thoughtful human being, a jerk, or a lot older than the unmasked potion of their face looks. And we all know wise medical folks who tell us, “Here’s the evidence thus far, and here’s what I’d recommend.” Resounding Yes? Resounding No? No, not terribly resounding. So mask-wearers and non-mask wearers are usually best advised, I think, to wear some humility. It looks good on us and protects us from an affliction worse than Covid-19 anytime, even as we’re not sheltering in place.

I’m not the English usage police, either. I think I can live with occasionally turning “shelter” into a verb. But “sheltering in place,” as I understand it, actually means to stay in the closet until the bullets quit flying, or not sticking your nose out of the storm shelter until the tornado has flown away and the “all clear” is given. It must be terribly difficult, but you’re not  technically “sheltering in place” even if you’re going stir-crazy staring at your over-priced and claustrophobia-inducing apartment walls in New York City, but still putting on a mask and emerging occasionally for some useful purpose like buying food or just to take a walk to avoid full-blown psychosis.

To borrow a musical metaphor, “sheltering in place” is fortissimo and only a few measures long. “Stay at home” is forte and can seem like forever. And “safer at home,” a nuisance and not a storm shelter, is semi-forte and certainly not normalissimo (don’t look either of those up).

Misuse the term if you want to, but if you start out at -issimo don’t blame me if you want to get a lot louder and have already limited your linguistic options. I promise not to call storm troopers from the EUP (English Usage Police).

I’m about to mask up. Always do when I mow the yard. But, as I write, our county’s Covid-19 cases are passing two handfuls. A mask at the store, even if you don’t intend to rob the place, is making more sense.

But “judge not” makes the best sense of all.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! No mask required or even suggested.

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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