The current influenza epidemic has caused us all to take more precautions in our daily routines. News of outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths brings on a heightened attention to the little things we can do to try to protect ourselves from the virus. I am reminded of the scare of the SARS epidemic of 2003. SARS was frightening because it was swift, deadly, highly contagious, and there was no vaccine available.
My friend, Jerry Moye, lives in Hong Kong and teaches at the Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary. During that SARS outbreak, Jerry described to me the safety measures that were being taken. Schools were closed, public outings were limited. Everyone tried to protect themselves from contamination. Jerry told me that the Chinese church that he attended decided to continue with limited Sunday worship, with no children’s programs, and opening the church only for those adults who were well and wanted to come. Jerry made the comment about what a sight it was to see the choir members singing while wearing surgical masks. That comment about church and surgical masks provided me with some insight about how we relate to one another which I elaborated upon in my poem, Unmasking the Mask.
Unmasking the Mask
In spite of the epidemic
The people gather on Sunday morning.
Singing hymns and greeting one another
Through surgical masks,
They are determined to carry on.
The sight of all those masks in church
Seems odd at first,
But we always wore the mask.
Sometimes an outsider,
Or a prophet,
Would challenge us
Using words like,
Most of us
Allowed each other
The saving of face
By ignoring the mask.
Now, every mask is out in the open
Like flags of solidarity.
In the clear light of the epidemic
We see that sometimes a mask is needed
There is always a risk,
Epidemic or not,
When we draw close to one another.
When we know it is safe,
We will remove the mask.
We will grant each other the right
To speak through the mask.
We all know
That touching and knowing
Are better than proximity,
Is better than isolation.
We will venture as close as we can
And grant each other a safe place.
Mask or no mask.
~ Charles Kinnaird