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In this time of pandemic, a new day of birth?

By John Pixley

Sometimes, it’s the little things that count. Sometimes, the little things are what bring joy and pleasure.

That’s especially true during this pandemic and the recent uprising over police brutality and racial inequality, as overdue and as hope-inspiring as it is. (Did they have to happen at the same time, especially as protesting could be dangerous, even lethal, with COVID-19 in the air?)    

After an unusually chilly early spring (at least for me now with my neuropathy after my spinal surgery three years ago), I have ventured out on my own in my wheelchair. I have delighted in these independent excursions around my neighborhood and a bit beyond (during the stay-at-home orders, we are allowed to go out for walks).

But I have to say, when I forget to have my mask put on when I go out, I feel naked, even when masks aren’t mandatory.

Perhaps it’s weird that this is how I feel. They say we are to wear mask to protect others, to not spread germs to others, not to protect ourselves. Not only is it highly unlikely that I have the coronavirus, as isolated and careful as I’ve been, I often do not encounter many people on my outings and do not get close to those I come across.

But, as superficial and shallow as it sounds, when I don’t wear a mask on my strolls, I feel I’m sending the wrong message (I can hear my dad saying I was making a statement in what I wore or with my hair). In short, and again at the risk of sounding shallow and superficial, when I don’t wear a mask when out, I’m reminded of President Trump, who never wears a mask when on television, saying that those who wear masks don’t support or like him.   

This isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. The sad, crazy fact is that wearing a mask—or not wearing a mask—has, as with way too many things these days, become political. Indeed, as my dad might say, wearing or not wearing a mask is now a statement.

It is reported that, in general, most Democrats wear a mask when out, and most Republicans don’t wear a mask, or don’t support wearing a mask, when out, perhaps following their leader’s example. But this is apparently more than a simple red state/blue state thing.

It’s also said that men are more unlikely to wear masks, likely thinking that it’s unmanly to do so. (I have seen families out walking, with all but the father wearing a mask.) Furthermore, evangelical Christians are also reported as less supportive of mask-wearing, probably with the belief that their faith will protect or save them.  

It kind of makes sense that a man thinking he can tough it out or an evangelical Christian believing that their faith will pull him/her through (or Heaven awaits them) or a person like Trump, who clearly just thinks of himself, would think that wearing a mask is stupid, wrong, humiliating, even if it protects or saves others.

This was pretty much the subliminal or not so subliminal message from those anti-stay-at-home protesters with their guns and confederate flags and even those gathering to have fun and a good time, despite it all, in large crowds at the beaches.

As someone with a severe disability, which may be an underlying condition, makes me more endangered by COVID-19. I don’t want to be a part of this. I want to be seen doing the right thing and to encourage others to do the right thing. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. This is why I feel naked, in a bad, shameful way, when I find myself out without a mask.

Now, as for the mask I wear, I am making a statement, as my dad would say, and I encourage others to do so as well. I currently wear a rainbow (gay pride) mask, and I’m trying to get other cool—colorful, perhaps tie dye or batik—masks. If we have to wear masks, and we probably will have to for a while, I figure, why not have fun with them?

But what has been going on is far bigger thing than whether we can go for a walk in the neighborhood and even whether we wear masks or not. And what has been going on is not just out there on the news.

Indeed, we Claremonters have been subject to the stay-at-home rules and mask-wearing mandates. Furthermore, there have been COVID-19 cases here in town and in this community in which small businesses and restaurants are very much a part of its well-known identity, the shut-down and nervous reopening have been very much felt.

Claremonters have also been touched by the outcry against police brutality and racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, being slowly, casually crushed to death by a white Minneapolis police officer. There have been peaceful marches in town, joining many across the nation and even the world, thousands putting themselves in danger of contracting and spreading the virus. Even the residents of Mt. San Antonio Gardens had a march of their own on their locked-down grounds.

What’s more, when I drove by a demonstration nearby in Pomona, there was a sign mentioning Irwin Landrum, a black man, and that he was killed by Claremont police during a traffic stop some years ago. In the wake of the fatal shootings, city officials made some gross missteps, leading to various reforms, significant shake-ups at city hall (including on the city council) and serious community discussions and reckoning.

This has been a remarkable, extraordinary combination of events—a pandemic that requires, or should require, us to stay home and is proving to be controversial, and a brutal police killing that has demanded a vociferous response out in the streets despite what is now required to be safe. No doubt, the country and this town have been put through the wringer these last few months.

Hopefully, all this angst hasn’t been for naught. Hopefully, we’ll learn from it. There is talk of major police reform, talk of finally making Black Lives Matter, talk of providing better healthcare to all, talk of being better prepared for the new infections that are sure to come. Hopefully, this is all more than talk.   

I can’t help but think that it is significant that all this has been happening in the weeks and months leading up to July 4. The holiday celebrating our nation’s birth has been very much changed this year, thanks again to the pandemic. The Fourth has always been a uniquely special day in Claremont, and it will be a shadow of itself this year.

But perhaps this Fourth can also be different in another, brighter, hopeful way. There is the opportunity, the hope, for this Independence Day to be a rebirth of sorts. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn from the pandemic and the civil unrest and take this opportunity to make this community and this country a safer, healthier and fairer place for all who are here.

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