Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Pandemic Protocols: Masks, Thermometers, and Ash Wednesday

Yesterday was the first day of what will likely be the new normal for a long time.  Students arrived on campus in a limited capacity; they came only to do lab work for classes, and only the lab work that couldn't be done virtually.  We all wore masks, and I took everyone's temperature upon arrival with a no-touch thermometer.

We had the advantage of having several months to get used to some of this.  In our county in South Florida, we have been wearing masks to stores for almost two months, so wearing a mask on campus is less strange than it would have been in early April.

It still feels strange to take people's temperature, even though it's a no touch system.  With all these months of hearing about 6 feet of social distancing, it feels invasive to get that close, even when we both wear masks.

Each one of my masks makes me miserable in a different way.  One is too tight, while the other has elastic ear loops that are a bit too big.  One I lined with a flannel fabric that sheds fibers and makes my nose itch.  I've tried every way of getting them to stay on my face:  elastic ear loops, ties, clipping them to my hair in addition to the other securing.  Plus I'm realizing that I'm often holding my breath when I put the mask on.

Our no-touch thermometer has the temperature taker aim for the lower part of the forehead.  This morning I took temperatures and thought about how much it felt like Ash Wednesday, except I wasn't smearing ashes on the foreheads of parishioners.  Still, it's a potent reminder of what's at stake regardless of whether its' the taking of a temperature or the smearing of ash.  We are all dust, and to dust we shall return.

I also thought about the week-end when I had made the mask I was wearing.  It was Easter week-end, and it was becoming clear that we would need masks; it was also becoming clear that there was a national shortage.  It was strange to sew masks and to think about the Easter readings of the empty tomb with the folded grave cloths.  I've always been touched by that idea:  Jesus rising from the dead, but taking time to fold the grave wrappings.

Can I write a poem that captures all of these elements?

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