How’s your newly unmasked life going?

At the beginning of the pandemic, it took us more than a minute to figure out how to communicate beyond our masks. We learned to speak up and enunciate. We got “smizing” down. 

On the flip side, masks offered us a place to hide. We could ditch the lipstick. Shaving was optional. While our masks protected us from COVID, they also protected us from each other.

So what does it look like to be unmasked?

Yesterday, I met someone pre-pandemic style, (no mask and a handshake). While we were making that initial get-to-know-you small talk, I caught myself using the word nice. I immediately withdrew it, “Actually, I’m not nice.” 

My friend Rob blurted, “What are you talking about Thornley? You’re awesome.” 

Okay, thanks Rob. Yes, I am awesome, but that’s irrelevant. I’m lots of things…funny, generous, curious, but I would never call myself nice or even consider it a compliment.

The four of us got into a conversation about what nice looks like, and who we actually want to be. The conversation went deep quickly and included plenty of laughter.

That is what being unmasked looks like to me. 

Cut to two weeks ago when I had my first public unmasked experience at the grocery store. As I’m putting my items on the conveyor belt, I noticed that the cashier wasn’t wearing a mask. His name was Omar. He assured me that I wasn’t required to wear one if I was vaccinated. 

Pulling off that mask and smiling with my mouth and teeth in full view felt so sweet, and a little naked. As he was checking out my items, Omar paused and locked eyes with me. He blurted out that lots of people were not nice to him because he’s autistic.

A little stunned by his statement, I stopped fumbling with my wallet and responded, “You know Omar. Lots of people just don’t understand when people are different than they are.”

Scanning my kale and bananas, Omar replied, “Yeah, I guess, but it’s not easy.”

Not wanting to overstep, but wanting to stand in solidarity with Omar, I added, “They might not see that your brain works perfectly for you, and even better than theirs might.”

“I know,” he said as he handed me my receipt.

“See you next time Omar,” I smiled back at him.

Rolling away my cart I overheard him tell the woman behind me that I was ‘a good one.’ It’s worth noting how a two minute verbal exchange can have that big of an impact on someone and its ripple effect on others.

I barely made it to my car before I burst into tears.

Those moments of connection with Omar impacted me more than I expected. Kindness costs. It takes time, energy, and the willingness to put ourselves out there. The return on the investment is well worth the cost.

So who do we want to be unmasked? 

We have an opportunity to be different than we were behind the masks and maybe even better than we were before we needed them. 

We’ve spent over a year masking up and staying home to protect each other. How can we continue to demonstrate care for each other and ourselves as we move forward?

You’re the only one that knows what that looks like for you.  

For me it includes:

  • Allowing more grace and space.
  • Standing in my truth (without always having to speak it).
  • Listening with all of me.
  • Forgiving everyone (including myself) in advance (Thanks to Mushim Patricia Ikeda)

Most of all, I want us to all stop being nice (pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory) and start being kind (having or showing a friendly, generous and considerate nature).

Who will you choose to be when you drop your mask?

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