I have been fully vaccinated since February, so when the newest CDC guideline saying fully vaxxed folks don’t need to wear masks almost anywhere came out, I was gleeful! Finally! The time has come to return to a more normal life!

And I have been shocked at how uncomfortable and awkward I feel being mask-less out in public. Not while outdoors – I’ve always felt that the fresh-air, open spaces didn’t warrant a mask and rarely wore one outside. But going into grocery stores with no mask? Into coffee shops? Into the library?

I was surprised at my reaction, because I wasn’t uncomfortable from being afraid of getting covid now without the mask. I fully trust in the vaccine. I think the science behind the mRNA delivery system is out-of-this-world, and the data is so impressive at how good a job they are doing. So I feel confident in the vaccine and my protected level of health with that on board. I know that getting covid is still possible, but if I do get it, it would likely be a mild case.

I was surprised because I was uncomfortable at what people were thinking, seeing me walk around mask-less. I’m not someone who typically cares a whole lot about what others think of me, although I am human and I think we all care sometimes about certain things. But I have not done a great job at staying non-judgmental myself toward the covid-deniers, the “plandemic”-ers, the abrasively anti-maskers. I’ve felt the division deeply and personally. So now, I was worried that I would be seen as an anti-masker, rather than as a fully vaccinated person following the new guidelines and trusting in the science.

I’ve found myself announcing to the clerks and fellow library patrons – “don’t worry, I’m vaccinated!” Putting on an awkward face, saying how strange it is to be out in public sans mask, but we’ve got to start trusting the vaccine and getting back to normal, right??

In my personal life, I have been really working on giving grace to myself and others. Grace to myself to not be “the perfect mom” (whatever that is!), the perfect wife/friend/daughter/anything really. I’m always trying to improve, while recognizing that I am a human who makes mistakes and is still learning. And grace toward others – that one has been harder for me.

I know we’re living in an era of division. That’s nothing new – name calling, picking sides, and snap judgements have existed since probably the beginning of human society. Today it’s very loud and constantly visible with news and social media in our pockets 24/7. And we’re creating our own echo chambers, mainly reading, listening, and talking to people that mostly agree with us. It’s very easy to think that our views are correct and other opinions are incomprehensible. As the lyrics to a recently discovered band I just heard snarkily sing:

“i think my opinions are the right ones. if i didn’t think so, i’d get new ones. i think my ideas are the best ones, if i didn’t think so i’d get better ones”

Poke you in the Eyes by Humans on the Floor

I’m as guilty of it all as the next person. I’m aware of my echo chamber, and try to bust out of it in fits and starts, but listening to the “other side” mostly drives me bananas. I try to find neutral sources of news, to check the bias ratings and to stay in the middle. I listen to podcasts who make the effort to stay nuanced and not villainize any alternative opinions or beliefs. I try to understand why the other side might think the way they do and often can find some level of appreciation.

But I’m certain that much of my awkwardness around being mask-less in public is because I know what I thought about people I saw in public without masks as recently as a few weeks ago. And now I look like I’m one of them.

I say all this to encourage us all to proceed with grace and gentleness as we enter this new phase of the pandemic. We’re not going to know who is truly fully vaccinated and mask-less and who was mask-less all along, and we shouldn’t have to. For one thing, being vaccinated protects us really well, so being around an unvaxxed person isn’t much of a personal risk now. And while my instincts still want to say how self-centered it is to flaunt public health policy because you are not scared and to not think of yourself as part of a whole society with lots of fragile people in it, I don’t know what someone else thinks, believes, has seen and has gone through. It is on me to make the best choices for my life, as much as I can with limited information, and to let others alone.

We all learn different life lessons at different times, if ever. My views of being an integrated part of a large society – where my decisions effect others and therefore I have some level of responsibility toward my fellow human – are new to me within the last 15 years or so. I haven’t always believed and acted this way. And I’ve got more learning to do about judging others, thinking I’ve got everything figured out, and giving others enough freedom and grace to make their own decisions. I can admit that I can be self-righteous and proud and am working on toning that down. Someone on the other end of the political, religious, or social spectrum from me has their own values that they’ve learned and are really good at, and things that they need work on.

It’s true that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Being kind, being polite, being gracious – even when strongly disagreeing with someone’s stance, beliefs or opinions – will always do a better job of connecting, listening, learning, and ultimately finding potential common ground and mutual respect. And society could certainly use more of that. I’m going to keep working on it in my own life. Join me?

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