I SPOTTED the coast guard officer in the gas station. His gaze met mine, and I asked, “Where’s your mask?” It’s the first time I ever questioned anyone in public about not wearing a mask.
He smiled and came up to my car window as the gas station attendant filled my car with CNG. Young, fit and oozing charisma, he smiled and answered offhandedly, “I have it in the car.”
“That’s not the same as wearing it,” I said. I wondered if I would have been so confrontational if he hadn’t appeared friendly.
“True. It’s not,” he nodded.
“Police, coast guard, army – you guys just don’t seem to get how bad it looks when you don’t wear your masks. You all expect us to look up to you and obey you as members of the protective services, but you can’t be bothered to follow the Prime Minister’s directive to wear masks. Do you all realise how bad that looks?”
He laughed now, and I wondered if I should mention he was leaning into my open car window and not following social distancing.
“I wear my mask sometimes. I wear it if I go in a store, and when I’m around people.”
“Well, you’re around people now.”
I noticed the gas station attendant and thought about all the people who don’t wear masks that he must face every work day. The gas station attendant was wearing a mask and looking awfully uncomfortable.
“Can I tell you why I don’t wear a mask all the time?” the coast guard officer asked.
“I can’t imagine any reasonable excuse, but go ahead,” I said.
“The Prime Minister said people can go to the beach now.”
He paused as a punchline was coming; then added, “You can’t wear masks at the beach.”
Ah, I thought. He thinks he has found a loophole in the mask-wearing policy.
“The Prime Minister said people at the beach should be practising social distancing, and if they don’t, we’re probably all in for another stay-at-home order. The Prime Minister also said wear your masks where you can.”
This too, made the Coast Guard officer laugh.
“Do you really believe it is still out there?” he asked.
“Yes. Viruses don’t disappear. They just hang around and wait for the right conditions so they can come back with a vengeance.
“You think it will get worse?” he asked.
The man in the car behind me popped his car horn, and the affable coast guard officer called the gas station attendant to take the CNG hose from my car and take my money.
“Ok,” the young man said as he turned to walk to his car.
“Put on your mask,” I called after him.
“I will,” he said.
But he didn’t put one on when I last saw him. As I drove away, I wondered who or what he had come in contact with out on the sea in the course of his job. I wondered if people in the protective services who don’t wear masks realise their potential to endanger us. They come in contact with a lot of people through their jobs. On the other hand, they are missing a huge symbolic opportunity to demonstrate that following rules and laws are important for everyone. In this fight there should be no us against them, which is the pervasive mentality in our protective services.
Wearing a mask helps to protect us. It shows social responsibility and respect for the elderly and vulnerable among us. It’s a simple, but important act that shows we can unite for at least one major cause: keeping all of us safe.
Make no mistake about it, we are still in the early stages of this covid19 fight. We have been lucky so far, but we should be using this reprieve to practise for the next round of this deadly virus.
Wearing masks is important – and I don’t mean strapping them around your chin or over your mouth with your nose exposed. That proves nothing but inconsideration and blatant ignorance. It’s not difficult to consider the well-being of others. We have the right to feel protected – even if it is something as practical and symbolic as wearing a mask.
Those among us who work in the protective services need to remember that respect is earned. In these troubled times, we can’t have one set of rules for some and another set of rules for others. Just wear your mask and show that our well-being matters.