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Mask or no mask? – Readers respond, column touches a nerve

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I can usually predict when a column will hit or miss, touch the heart or touch a nerve.

My “Wizard of Oz” column, published Monday, did the latter for some of you, and lordy, I did not see that coming.

I had anticipated a definite split in opinion, but these days that is the norm. This one was more of a chasm.

To recap, the column spoke about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement May 13 that we can now resume a semblance of normal life sans mask and social distancing as long as we are fully vaccinated. That news made many of us giddy and reminded me of the cheery ditty “Optimistic Voices” as Dorothy and crew emerge from the dark and scary woods. But many of us, I wrote, are not quite ready to part with our masks because of too many unknowns and too many folks who haven’t been vaccinated. It was, I thought, an honest look at how some, not all, of us are dealing with this new phase of our pandemic lives.

But first things first.

Several of you pointed out I erroneously ascribed the poison the Wicked Witch uses to put Dorothy to sleep, perchance to die, to the snow that falls over the lush field of poppies rather than to the poppies themselves.

“The poppies are the poison,” wrote reader Joann, who added that she has likely seen “The Wizard of Oz” more than any other movie. “The snow was sent by the Good Witch to wake them up – at least in the movie!”

I was wrong. It’s tough when reality conflicts with a childhood memory.

Still, many of you said the column resonated with you.

“I am fully vaccinated. I believe in science. I still wear my mask,” Audrey wrote. “I took it off in the Smith’s store, went to the produce section, then put it back on. I felt as if I were driving my car without my seatbelt.”

Sheryl, who is also fully vaccinated, wrote that she has come up with her own way to handle her mask ambivalence and distrust of others.

“I will continue to mask up in social situations where I feel the need to control my level of safety,” she wrote. “The new masks I ordered say ‘VACCINATED’ on the front. Now it’s very clear I am vaccinated AND continue to practice my mask-wearing rituals.”

Comments, she said, have ranged from ‘Go girl!’ affirmations and thumbs up to snickers and scorn.

Which is to say, business as usual.

Kellye, also fully vaccinated and excited about wearing lipstick again, wrote that she doesn’t understand folks who believed science enough to wear masks but now don’t believe science enough to stop wearing one.

“I understand it is fearful for some to let go, but I don’t feel I should be labeled as one of ‘those people’ because I’m believing the science that says vaccines work,” she wrote.

That was a common complaint – that many of you read my column to mean that you were either someone who still wears a mask or one of “those people” who all along have viewed wearing masks as a sign of weakness, a socialist ploy, an attack on freedom or aligned with some conspiracy theory with no basis in reality.

“I am one of ‘those people’ who has been vaccinated and discarded my mask per CDC guidelines. According to you and your friends, that identifies me as a threat to all, selfish, stupid, and no doubt present at the Capitol Hill riot,” a greatly dismayed Jean wrote.

“It’s unfortunate that wearing a mask – or not – has come to represent one’s political beliefs and has increased our fear, derision and mistrust of one another,” wrote Michelle, who added that she lost respect for me for writing that column.

I also may have lost a subscriber because of the column. Melanie wrote that pointing out conflicting viewpoints on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines encourages mean-spiritedness and “does nothing to promote healing or moving on from this crisis.”

To clarify, my point was that wearing a mask, at least in my mind, made it easy to know whether you were among folks who believe in the efficacy of masks and, likely, the vaccine. There was comfort in that.

To Melanie, Michelle and all the others who took the time to take me to task, to call me arrogant or rude or trite or a terrible Oz expert, I hope you stick around. I may disagree with you – and you will almost certainly disagree with me – but I read every word you send and I hope you’ll continue to read a few of mine. It’s hard these days to listen to opposing voices, but I’m still trying. I hope you will, too.

Finally, reader Ian shared a thought that seemed a good way to end our journey together down this yellow brick road.

Ian wrote that he is vaccinated and no longer wears a mask unless required but takes no issue with those who still do whether for a real or imagined sense of security.

Both, he said, can be important. But sometimes what is needed is less fear and more courage.

“Just like the Cowardly Lion,” he wrote. “I’m not talking about a reckless belief that COVID isn’t a real thing. More along the lines of something JFK or Roosevelt would say to bring a nation together with a common cause. We should strive to not be afraid of the dark, nor the light.”

Let this be the optimistic voice we hear today.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column.