Unmasked: Finding kindness in strangers underneath the COVID-19 face masks

Oakland Voices correspondent Jo Ann wears her mask during a ‘social distancing’ visit. (Jo Ann )

Oakland Voices asked our correspondents about their experiences since being forced to wear face masks.

When I was first forced to don a mask, I thought of it as a novelty that would be a temporary measure. If everyone was diligent, it would reduce the chances of the COVID-19 virus being spread.

I honestly believed the panic would end reasonably soon and I would be free of having to cover myself to move about. I even got used to visits by masked family members. When I went out putting on a mask became as ordinary as putting on my jacket or picking up my purse.

It didn’t take long to see that the mask requirement was becoming widespread. Not just in Oakland, but worldwide. In addition to the protection from contamination, there is a bigger picture. The mask has allowed people to show themselves without restraint. I began to “feel” rather than “see” a smile. 

Covering allows people to display the real person and not have to actually hide a fake feeling. Underneath: it became and it is ok to smile. It became and it is ok to speak to strangers.

Jo Ann bell

Covering allows people to display the real person and not have to actually hide a fake feeling. Underneath: it became and it is ok to smile. It became and it is ok to speak to strangers. It’s ok to feel the freedom to loudly say, “Excuse me,” or “Pardon me,” or “Thank you.” The eyes are really the window; the voice is what’s inside; but it’s the feelings that can’t be hidden.

I noticed in Safeway the other day that people nodded and behaved so differently; so nice. I mentioned to another shopper how unusual but encouraging it felt to be around so many nice people for a change. The negativity stays behind the mask and the true person has no choice but to be exposed through their eyes.

And since the mask seems to be the overall topic of everyone’s thoughts and conversation, I felt relieved to share with a colleague the other day that I may continue this freedom of expression after the crisis. I like the freedom of exposure. I like speaking with my heart, through my eyes.

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