The California trip didn’t get off to a good start. Going cattle class in jet, even just for four hours, is rarely close to comfortable. But this was the first time I had to do it with a mask on.
It was barely survivable.
I’d only thought masks an annoyance at worst. Getting out of the Great Lockdown, we put them on to escape our isolation chambers. I was happy just to be out, and especially to rejoin our community in prayer. If the masks enabled that, if they made people who were otherwise scared to come out comfortable in being together, it seemed an easy enough price to pay.
But the enforced mask mandate in the airports and on the planes took me by surprise with its malignant psychological power. Perhaps if it had been a short flight in the morning, it wouldn’t have hit me in the same way. But in the afternoon of a day that started very early and was extended by flying three time zones west, it hit me with unexpected force. Trying to close my eyes and drift away proved hopeless. The combined sensation of crowding in together in Sardine Class with the unaccustomed imposition of a mask while trying to sleep led to a feeling of being trapped and smothered that I simply didn’t have the resources to push away.
When the going gets tough, the tough go to chocolate. I had a bag of chocolate-covered pistachios which brought some relief, as it gave me the excuse I needed to remove the mask. I spaced out the snacking, one by one, to maximize mask-off time. But the theobromines fought the sugar to a draw and the inner agitation continued till blessed touch down. All in all, it was an inauspicious start to my trip. A week in Gavin Newsom Land might be downright hellish.
I was pleasantly surprised. Certainly, I saw the signs aplenty mandating mask wearing and the signs requiring vax proof to enter the restaurants. But in one place after another, the observance of the governor’s rules seemed to be taken with the same sort of seriousness as the governor and his other mandate colleagues have been exposed to hold to them in their private lives — casually at best if not aware that the camera is on them. Not once was I reprimanded for a mask being off and not once was I carded in any of the restaurants in which I ate or in the public places in which I gathered with others for prayer.
Despite the threats of fines and more, the people in real life seem to be doing what Americans have always done — figuring things out for themselves and then doing what makes sense to them. They listened to the government approved experts for a good long time. They saw the results in their own lives. They figure the truth isn’t exactly as hard and fast as the restrictions the government’s experts’ rules. They see that a lot of other people feel as they do. And they realize that there are not enough cops to enforce something that, like the great experiment of Prohibition, just didn’t work as it had been pitched to them, and now they are going to make sense of it on their own.
Of course, there are variants. Some people are naturally more cautious than others and some people are at greater risk than others. And of course there is no unanimity and the restrictions have their fierce proponents, who will look at you with anger if you are not in lockstep. But they are not carrying the day.
So it seems from my decidedly unscientific survey. Just a week of one person’s life, watching what is going on around me. But this is life as we all live it in the middle of our own stories. Scientific surveys, after the time delay that good methods require, will eventually just report from the outside on the tracks left by the innumerable choices that people make inside those stories of their own lives.
A tide is turning, even here in California. It is not only turning with respect to the mandates, it seems to me, but with a lot of other things that were sold to people, good Americans who want a country in good health, free of disease, free of racism, free of poverty. They have tried out paths towards those noble goals and they see that they have only worked partially at best and that they know from the wisdom that is at the core of their own soul that there has to be a better way than what they see are the results of what they have been sold.
Thanks, people of California. There is a lot more hope than the nightmarish plane ride that this last year has often seemed like.
America is still OK.
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