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Covid Shaming, Commentary by Nancy Aronie

Kate Feiffer

We’re all in this together. Yeah yeah yeah. I know all about it.


In the middle of our zoom writers’ group meeting the other night, my friend, Suzanne, told us she and her fourteen year old daughter were walking on the beach when two people passed, easily socially distanced, and said, “Where are your masks?” Suzanne said, “We don’t need them. We’re outside.” The woman said, “No, you’re supposed to be wearing masks at all times, government orders.”  And Suzanne, said, “You know what you're doing? You’re shaming me. And I don’t appreciate it.” The woman said shaming was not her intention. Saving lives was. 


I was shocked because my experience has been that people have been going out of their way to be even kinder. Suzanne said, “Well, as far as I’m concerned this covid shaming is going to grow.”


There were five writers in the ”room” and when five writers hear a brand new phrase they’ve never heard before and it is a good one, we collectively light up. Ooh covid shaming we all agreed nailed something that felt visceral and so now.


The next day my husband and I drove in our little Miata convertible with the top down to a farm stand. No one was there when we pulled in but just as we were about to get out of the car someone else drove in. We decided even though we had gotten there first to just let them go in and shop and we would wait til they were gone.


As they were leaving the driver looked over and snapped, you two should be wearing masks. They drove off and at the exact same millisecond my husband and I looked at each other and said in unison “covid shaming.” The thing is I know we weren’t doing anything wrong but the words hit their mark because I did feel ashamed. 


There has to be a better way to let people know you think that what they’re doing is wrong. 


Then I remembered a story about the Bamemba tribe in South Africa. When a person in the community acts irresponsibly or unjustly he is placed in the center of the village, alone. Every man, woman and child gather in a large circle around the accused.


Then one at a time each member speaks to the person recalling in detail something he has done that was good. The circle breaks and a joyous celebration takes place and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.


I don’t want to wear it when I’m walking on a trail where if I do see someone I pull over way away from the other walker. 


At least that was my approach until my friend Jane came over yesterday with hand made masks for my husband and me.  I told her thank you but I think wearing it outdoors is ridiculous. I am glad we aren’t breaking any rules but I don’t really want this to be about who is right and who is wrong. I want it to be more about how we navigate these new waters with some old fashioned manners. She said exactly. The old fashioned manners are; I am doing this for you.


She got me. “I am doing this for you” is really the only good reason to wear a mask out doors, to help dismantle the anxiety people are feeling.


All of a sudden we are all in this together took on new meaning. Why it took me so long to get it I'll never know.


But we are all in this together really says because if we’re not, the isolation becomes another kind of virus.


Nancy Aronie is a writer who lives in Chilmark. https://chilmarkwritingworkshop.com/