Essay: Masked Fear

Years ago, an acquaintance said this to me as a sarcastic joke. “Quitting smoking is hard, but it takes a real man to face cancer.” Poor taste (we did that), but it makes the point.

A few weeks ago, my daughter posted a similar, but less sarcastic, meme on her Facebook page. The graphic had a picture of C. Darwin and a comment invoking evolutionary survival for those who refuse to take precautions to prevent getting or spreading COVID-19. It said, “If you don’t want to quarantine, it’s okay.” Innocuous enough. If you’ve been exposed, tested positive, or diagnosed it is not okay not to quarantine. However, it attracted comment from a troll since she posted it as public.

While the middle aged man from Abilene, TX, said mostly illogical and incoherent things, and he invoked Communism for reasons only he and his ilk comprehend, his gist was that people are wearing surgical masks and other mouth/nose coverings due to irrational fear. A quick look at his page supported his opinionated hypothesis with memes poking fun at (or insulting) people who mask up. People like me.

For the record, the man currently holding the office of POTUS, two of his predecessors (Bush2 and Clinton1), and I all turn 74 years of age this summer. In my case, I have two manageable, non-life-threatening (in the near term), underlying conditions (as they call them) that would make COVID-19 probably deadly for me. I’ve also had surgery for cancer and am constantly monitored (scanned) for recurrence. Fear? Me? There is more.

I was born into and grew up in a family supported by a subterranean coal miner. Going underground to mine has been a top ten dangerous job for hundreds of years. I attended the funerals of friends and classmate’s fathers who died from cave-ins, flash floods, and explosions. I do not recall my father worried or fearful of going to work, although unions and others tried to improve working conditions with limited success. He feared flying until he did, then he was fine.

I spent years wearing a uniform in foreign countries where I was advised to be unpredictable and to alter my route to and from work for safety. I flew airplanes strapped to ejection seats (upward and downward), wearing an oxygen mask, a helmet, and able to recite from memory and to demonstrate emergency procedures. I never did this out of fear. It was my job. Although I lived through some very scary moments, fear would have negatively affected my performance (the cliché is to choke). It was wisdom, professionalism, and training, not fear, that enabled a young aviator to become this old one.

I have my car inspected (safety inspection) and drive on good tires with good brakes, and I wear my seatbelt because it is a smart thing to do (and the law), but not because I am afraid. Indeed, the driving habits of some people I must share the road with motivate me. It is not fear. I drive carefully and defensively, but not fearfully.

I have ridden a motorcycle for years. I wear a helmet, protective gloves, long pants, good shoes, and cover my face, neck, and arms because I think it is foolish not to. I dress for the crash that will not happen, not for the ride. My first times riding in the rain, riding on interstate highways in highspeed traffic, and other scary situations were tense. I felt fear due to my lack of knowledge, experience, and skill. I no longer fear riding. It’s fun. I also believe that motorcycle riding, like aviation, is inherently dangerous. Fact, not fear.

I drive near legal/recommended speed limits or less. I slow down for corners and sharp curves/turns. I ride sober. I look all around and try to predict the actions of others in cars and trucks. I avoid riding in high wind, rainstorms, ice or snow, darkness, heavy traffic, or busy interstate highways. I have done it all and found them dangerous, but often unavoidable. I mitigate risk and avoid unnecessary danger. That is being responsible, not afraid.

I advise friends and loved ones to be careful. Not out of fear, but as wisdom. I am not paranoid, and I enjoy the risk of life as much as anyone. I do not jump out of perfectly good airplanes, but I know how to wear and use a parachute. One of my favorite musical stanzas is from the song, For What It’s Worth,

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid…

COVID-19 is a deadly reality. I wish it on no one. I take precautions with many things in life. I consider it foolish not to wear a protective mask in crowded areas during the current pandemic. I try not to let my politics or opinion cloud my judgment or warp my wisdom.

I will continue to wear a mask and have negative thoughts about those who do not because I believe they are putting my life and that of others unnecessarily at risk. For some, it appears to be about politics rather than health, welfare, and science.

The people like the man who trolled my daughter’s post will never convince me that I must be an unmasked brave fool who refers to death by COVID-19 as “thinning the herd,” as he did. It has been an awfully long time since I was dared to do something stupid and called a fraidy-cat by another child.

I have no fear of wearing a mask; be it surgical, oxygen, Halloween, neck tube (Buff or gator) pulled up, or CPAP. Fools may never forgive me, but I’m gunna pass on that kind of stupid.


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