In the past few weeks, the wearing (or not wearing) of face masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus has become some sort of national political symbol. And of course the good Lord knows what we need most right now is another political symbol. 

Instead of trying to suss out what philosophical “team” someone is on by what they’re wearing on their face, how about we all just be kind and patient with others! Follow health department directives to the best of our abilities! Respect the rights of businesses to set rules for themselves! Stop assuming the motivations of those we don’t know!

No? Yeah, I knew that seemed too simple. 

If we’re going to put people in categories, let’s at least make them fun ones. Next time you’re out and about, take a look at each kind of face covering. What you see could say a lot about the person wearing it. 

N95 respirator: This is a friendly 68-year-old retired construction worker, probably named Bob or Mike. He likes domestic beer and owns a really nice lawnmower. He’s not sure if the coronavirus is any worse than the flu, but he’s not taking chances. He’s had these things in the back of his garage for years.

Alternately, it’s a 55-year-old woman named Carol. She’s been buying N95s in bulk since three weeks before anyone even heard the word “pandemic.” She has 46 boxes hidden in her neatly organized basement, and she’ll sell you one at a markup that would make Satan blush. Just meet her in the CVS parking lot; don’t tell anyone else you’re coming. She drives the cleanest minivan you ever did see. Carol is ready for COVID-19 because Carol is ready for everything. 

Blue surgical mask: John and Marie are in their mid-80s. They got these from their doctor at one of their regular visits. They are the sweetest couple you know and extremely thrifty. Marie leaves used masks out in the sunshine to “kill the germs” and figures that will make them good for three or four more trips to the store. Marie and John aren’t really worried about the coronavirus, but their kids are, so they humor them. 

Or, Brad. Brad, 42, stole his from the doctor’s office at one of his regular visits. He keeps them in his truck and wears them only if he must. He’s heard that smoking protects against COVID-19, and if that’s the case, he’s pretty sure he’ll never die. 

Fun cloth mask with pattern: This is Shannon (late 30s), her three children, and her long-suffering husband, Greg. Both of them feel that wearing a mask is important for public health, but Greg had to put his foot down at the idea of matching masks with embroidered monograms. His has the logo of his favorite football team. The kids’ masks have unicorns or tractors. Shannon has six masks, and all of them match a different outfit. 

This could also be Jane, age 75. Jane is a living saint. She’s personally made more than 600 masks, and her sewing machine is hot to the touch. She doesn’t even really know what COVID-19 is. All she knows is people need her. 

Bandana: Young guy named Alex. He has to wear his mask for work. He’s 25 and invincible. Masks are embarrassing. The bandana means he can look cool and stay employed. 

Alternately, this is Sharon, 63. Don’t mess with her. She doesn’t give a [redacted] what you think. She’s lived through some [also redacted] and she’s not gonna let a virus take her out now. 

Plastic face shield: Frank, 48. Big fan of action movies. Believes COVID-19 was manufactured in a Chinese lab as biological warfare. Might be related to Carol. 

No mask: Larry, 70. Larry thinks all of this is a global hoax meant to usher in a New World Order. It has something to do with 5G and Bill Gates, but it’s not quite clear yet. People who wear masks are weak. He will not wear a mask, and he will not patronize any business that requires one. He’ll send his wife in instead. 

Or Jenna, 30. Jenna has severe claustrophobia and simply can’t mask up without having an attack. She’s soft-spoken and cries when people give her dirty looks. 

Or Chris, 28. Chris can’t remember where he put his mask. Chris can’t remember where he put his keys. Chris doesn’t even remember what day it is. Please don’t yell at him. He’s trying.

Let’s forget the political divide, for once, when it comes to the coronavirus, face coverings or lack thereof. Let’s remember that behind each mask, in each unmasked face, there’s a unique personality and set of circumstances at which we can only guess. Let’s be kind and careful and patient. With everyone. 

Except for Carol. Let’s raid her basement and liberate the N95s. We all know she’ll have more by Tuesday. 

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