By Jennifer Hill Buehrer LMSW
I’ve said this before – maybe even more than once – but it bears repeating: I miss your faces. Masks are a pain and no one likes wearing them. But what I hate most is all the faces passing by me that I never see. Every day I meet patients and family members whose faces I never see. I never know what they actually look like before they get on with their lives. Even worse than that, however, are all the faces that I work with day after day – faces for which I have such a fondness – that I never see anymore. It makes me sad and it makes me angry. And it makes me realize how much I get from reading people’s faces, and how much better I feel when I can see the smiles and the goofy looks from my loved ones and colleagues. I have a total of about five people with whom I regularly remove my mask, and it feels so good. I happen to think it’s important to have such a group (albeit a small one), because we need that connection and communication so much as humans.
Our faces communicate so much emotion, even when we don’t realize it. They show people we love them. Or that we need something from them. I bet you can think of people in your life who trigger a smile when you see them, without you even thinking about it. I certainly can. Our faces communicate worry or concern. They can inspire hope, or fear. We are instilled at birth with a natural attraction to the face, and it’s really the first way we communicate with other people. Newborn babies respond to faces when they can’t really do anything else yet. We simply were not meant to live day after day with our faces covered and unavailable to each other. It feels so foreign and uncomfortable, even after almost a year of doing it – because it’s not natural.
We all know that masks are a must right now. I know that there are people who are skeptical, or don’t believe that they’re necessary; I’ve heard people say it. But they are. Scientists have been consistent in telling us that they’re one of the most reliable ways to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus. In both social and professional situations, the mask has become a sign of respect for each other and concern for our fellow humans. When you follow the rules and wear your mask around other people, you’re communicating with that simple gesture that you understand that we are all making sacrifices and that you are aware of the importance of protecting each other – not just protecting ourselves. Even getting the vaccine doesn’t change that. There are some simple but helpful websites out there if you need to be convinced: Cleveland Clinic – mask Q&A. I’m grateful to live in an area where most people seem to understand this.
In the meantime, whether you’re a skeptic or a follower, thank you for wearing your mask and showing the people around you that you care, and that you respect what we’re all going through. Because we’re ALL going through it. We’re all tired of wearing masks, and looking at masks, and avoiding each other; we’re tired of avoiding touches and hugs, and sitting close together. I truly cannot wait to dance in a crowded room again. I keep having to remind myself that the time will come when we won’t have to do all that anymore. Sometimes it feels like it never will… but it will. Every pandemic in history has eventually ended, and the more we all follow the rules, and find a way to be patient while our brilliant scientists help us find a way out, the sooner it will end.
For now, just know that I really miss seeing you. And I apologize in advance if I hug you in the hallway without warning when this is over. Just smile, and that too will be over soon.
Jennifer Buehrer, LMSW is a palliative care social worker at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.