Nine months ago, the idea that Jacksonville would need to impose a city-wide mask mandate would seem ridiculous. If you told me back then that a mask mandate would be required, I doubt I would have believed it. The need to wear a mask during a global pandemic itself is not shocking. What is shocking, as someone who has weathered many a storm in this little hamlet, is that the mandate was required at all. Our city routinely pulls together to handle rising floodwaters, hurricanes, and nor’easters. It is not seen as political, hostile, or debatable. We just come together and get to work. We may be a large landmass city, but we have always been a small town at heart. A community that sometimes struggles, but one that cares about our neighbors. Wearing a mask is not a political statement. It is not a religious statement. It is an act of kindness that can save lives and help keep local businesses open.
Wearing a mask is no different than helping a neighbor plyboard their home, sandbagging flooded areas, or heading out to restore the sea oats on the dunes after a storm. It is an act of kindness and hope. So why has it become for so many a raging debate? The science is clear and has been shared prolifically by the city. We all need to be wearing masks in public spaces where social distancing is not possible. My mask protects you; your mask protects me. And together we can make a significant impact on the spread of the virus while keeping our economy going.
As a mom of a child with a disability, we began practicing wearing masks in earnest well before the safer-at-home order was issued. We chose to do this because we knew that if masks were required, we would likely have some extra hurdles to overcome. As soon as we heard the mayor and our school say that these things may be needed for a time, we got to work. So did all of our friends in the disability community. At our house, we tested out multiple masks and practiced daily. We monitored vitals along the way. We found success easily. For some of our friends, the journey was a little harder. But they did not stop until they had a safe plan that worked for them. That is what we do. We plan. We practice. We work hard. We are whole members of this community that we love. We are well able, and we are more than willing to do what it takes to help our whole community thrive.
It is so sad and frustrating to listen as people excuse their inaction on mask-wearing. Often the same individuals falsely limit the abilities of those of us in the disability community. In one of the most painful encounters we have had this year, I listened as a fellow mom went on and on about how her “gifted child” could not wear a mask so she was certain that disabled kids (like mine) could not either. She was wrong on every level. My kids wear their masks with love, and it helps to connect us to our community. Yet, somehow just the sight of my little ones out and about rocking their adorable face masks was a point of outrage for her. She saw the masks as a sign of our weakness and fear. She is not alone. Incidents of mask shaming and aggression are all around us.
If you feel angry, scared, or distant from a neighbor when you see them complying with the mandate of wearing a mask, I invite you to investigate your feelings more deeply. Remember, that they are wearing that mask to protect you — not to make a political statement or scare you. Instead of leaning into your outrage, tap into your compassion and sense of community. The person in front of you in a face mask may be a cancer patient or caring for an immuno-compromised child or parent. They have gotten over every hurdle and discomfort that wearing a face mask placed on them. And they did it for your safety. Can you say the same?
We don’t wear our masks because we walk in fear. We wear our masks because we walk in compassion and hope. We do it because we love our neighbors and our community. We do it because we won’t let who we are be overshadowed by political talking points or misplaced outrage. No, we should not have needed a mask mandate. But we got one because we were not all showing up for each other. It’s time for us to start caring for our neighbors again. We need to restore the kindness and community that are foundational to who we are and how we have rebounded from so many crises in the past.