It has been 13 months since I wrote my first column about COVID-19, and I thought it would be interesting to revisit it in light of where we are now.
Looking back, I am somewhat stunned at what I couldn’t foresee: that simply wearing a mask would become a political issue for some folks; that we would lose over a half million people to the virus; that conspiracy theorists would create their own pandemic of ignorance. The following column came out in April 2020, and provides a glimpse into the angst many of us experienced at the start of this roller-coaster ride — an anxiety many of us are still dealing with today.
‘No Glove, No Love.
No Protection, No Affection!’
People who lived through the worst of the HIV-AIDS epidemic know precisely what that phrase means. Now that we’re facing an actual pandemic that is far easier to spread, the phrase takes on new meaning as we go about our lives.
I wanted to wretch when I heard that one of my best friends, visiting his mother at a local hospital, got a full sneeze in his face — from a doctor! Yes, the physician spewed right in my friend’s face. The doctor didn’t even say, “Excuse me,” and my friend and his wife certainly did not say, “Bless you!” They understandably froze. Manners, please!
On a recent grocery run, I stopped at a local store that stocks primarily Mexican products to see if they had any bread. It turned out they had fresh bolillos, right out of the oven. They smelled heavenly, hot and yeasty. I was clumsily using enormous tongs to retrieve the bolillos from the case, and an older man — or possibly younger than I am (when did that happen?) — rushes over and grabs a plastic bag for me, then grabs plastic gloves with his bare hands and thrusts them at me.
We are all newly sensitive to people touching anything. My uncensored self wanted to yell, “what the hell are you doing!?” Meanwhile, I am using tongs that might be crawling with COVID-19, which I only thought of after the bolillo incident, and here’s this super-polite grocery guy who is now double or even triple-exposing me to a possible killer virus? Really?
But did I say anything or leave? No, I did not. Here I am, Ms. Boundary Setter. I advocate and teach boundary setting, locally and globally. I was so stunned that I politely got the bolillos wrestled into the plastic bag, bought them, and proceeded back out to our car. I handed my husband Ken half of a bolillo, and we gobbled it up. I told him about the encounter with the man, after we ate the crusty roll, and he said, “Oh, well.”
I risked my life because I didn’t want to hurt that nice man’s feelings. That means I need to practice saying things that are “impolite” politely when I’m not under stress and while it’s happening.
I succeeded in saying to a man at Costco, after witnessing his uncovered cough three different times, “Sir, you need to cover your mouth!” I demonstrated by covering my face with the crook of my elbow. Good grief, people! Pandemiquette!
Citizens! Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make it accessible, whatever “it” is. Go ahead and practice saying these things to another or in the mirror: “Please back up. Please use a hand sanitizer. Please, cover your mouth in the crook of your elbow.”
We are all now part of a paradigm shift in manners. Pandemic Manners — “Pandemiquette” rules — are being forged as I write this.
We ordered takeout from a restaurant we love. I waited in the car. Ken ran in to get our food. The owner was talking a blue streak and not keeping their distance. Ken would back up; they’d close the gap. He’d remind them of “6 feet” and they’d stop… and then, it would start over again. Did Ken yell “Back off!” as he’d been trained in his IMPACT Personal Safety Men’s class? No, he did not. Practicing for a possibly violent confrontation is one thing; being direct in the moment during a polite and civil situation is quite another.
Restaurant Person blithely took Ken’s card barehanded, then handed him a pen to sign the bill, which he picked up using a napkin hoping they’d get a clue. They did not. They then person-handled the plastic bags, and he came out, paler than I’m used to seeing him.
This all gives me so much compassion for the people who are too nervous, scared or polite to ask their partners to use a condom.
Friends, we’re condomizing society right now, but it’s not just male reproductive equipment we’re asking people to sheathe, it’s everything. No protection? No affection…business, or anything. Y’all, No glove, no love!
Ellen Snortland has written Consider This… for decades. A writing coach, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.