Half a Face Is Better than None

The Street Where I Live

There are pleasures to be found even in lockdown. There are discoveries to be made in the small minutes of living that make up so much more of our lives than the grand gestures, the great successes. And there are few, if any, champagne moments in our days these days: but there are the quotidian graces that can reshape our battered hearts.

For me, one of these has been the ease with which I can recognize masked neighbors, even from across the street or from my upstairs window. Of course a person is much more than a mouth, a nose, a build: there are the gestures that punctuate our speeches, the postures that reveal our comfort or worry: the turn of a hand, the lift of an eyebrow, the rhythm of a step.

There’s a gladdening plethora of masks in use along my street: plain paper surgical masks; stylish cloth masks from otherwise idle garment factories, resplendent in polka dots, camouflage, paisley, or plaid; the ever-popular bandit bandanna, now disassociated from its outlaw traditions; even scarves, when the warming days permit; and occasionally hazmat- or scuba-worthy arrangements almost entirely concealing the wearer’s person. One of my neighbors did prove difficult to identify, as he was wearing a hoodie, a ski mask, and gloves, so that I couldn’t even see what color he might have been–but his voice in greeting gave him away, and we bantered in the middle of the now-unbusy street we live on for a minute or two, touching hearts without ever touching hands.

It seems we make an extra effort to be kind, to joke and play a bit with words and gestures, to come close to each other in our minds if not our bodies–in short, to communicate about the important things: how do you feel, are you eating well, you’re looking good.

Just as there are no unmixed blessings, so are there no unmitigated disasters. We have learned to reach beyond the walls that constraint and confinement build around us, and keep our humanity flowing across the spaces between, while frustrating the viruses as much as possible.

We may come out of this happier and more loving than we were before. As long, of course, as we stay alive. So wear your mask, please–and say hello when we pass each other on the street.

Rick Risemberg