Without a doubt, those obstetric professionals in a Chicagoland hospital who huddled over my mother during the labor and delivery of her third child sought to insure a germ, bacteria and infection-free environment by wearing them as I in turn took my first breath outside the womb. Though unbeknownst by me at the time, of this I am deeply grateful.
Annually and with a pillowcase in hand, I joined classmates, siblings and friends to scurry about the neighborhood for hours Halloween nights. Completely “disguised” behind full-length costumes resembling various superheroes or cartoon characters, I applied my trade with a “trick or treat” and harvested the mouthwatering proceeds.
Games of “cops and robbers” and even, shall we say, “cowboys and Native Americans” were enjoyed back then as opposing forces would combat one another stealthily camouflaged behind multicolored bandanas.
For a few summers, I found myself crouched behind home plate attempting to field the oft-errant deliveries of my Little League battery counterparts as I took on the duties of the catcher. Thankfully, protective gear from head to toe was the order of the day, and I survived relatively free of any permanent welts.
Industrial arts and science classes while growing up always had posters warning of the need for protective wear enhanced by catchy slogans, such as “You can walk with a wooden leg, but you can’t see with a glass eye.”
Brutal winters in the Windy City demanded the essentials of masks, scarves and hats to avoid any potential frostbite. A family of skiers, we would produce the same outerwear as we shushed and slalomed down mountain slopes, safely deflecting volumes of powdery snow past our sensitive faces.
Working many summers at my uncle’s metal fabrication plant, I preferred all paint spayed adhere to the steel rather than my lungs and always wore a respirator while laboring in the paint booth. At other times, with arc welder or torch in hand, wisely we would unite or sever metals shielded behind the confines of the sturdy dark hood of a welder’s mask.
Joining in the cleanup effort following Katrina, a busload of us arrived to gut what remained of hurricane-soaked housing. Forewarned of the ill-effects of toxic black mold, we labored in hot and humid homes breathing always through filtering respirators.
Marching in our town’s festive Santa Parade, I brought mostly delight and just a small bit of terror as I strolled along tossing candy to kids while decked out in green pajama bottoms, a furry red top and a rubbery face mask of “The Grinch.”
Two medical mission trips to Tanzania provided opportunity to return with a couple colorful and playful African masks that have made it into the dress-up box for the grandkids.
Alas, as the population diminishes with respect to those whose longevity enables recollection of the invigorating charge of “Hi-Yo, Silver,” enough may still be breathing, though through a mask of a different sort, to applaud its timely relevance.
The TV series, originally set in the Lone Star State, a current hotspot for this perilous pandemic, the fictional character of The Lone Ranger similarly arose out of an unanticipated ambush by a concealed enemy. Lives were tragically taken with little or no warning. A posse of six Texas Rangers had been in pursuit of a band of outlaws when the tables were turned, the battle ensued, and all Rangers seemed to have met their demise.
When Native American Tonto stumbles upon the horrid scene, he encounters one soul who has somehow survived the massacre. Compassionately and selflessly, he nurses him back to health.
Then, utilizing the materials at hand, our hero-to-be fashions a mask from the black vest of his brother who perished in the battle, and The Lone Ranger is born. In the same spirit, we too adorn masks made of available fabrics stitched, stretched and, now more than ever, stuck to our faces.
Now sufficiently disguised and with Tonto, they stride side-by-side determined to overcome evil with good, dispense justice and defend and protect the most vulnerable. At each episode’s conclusion the inquiry was injected, “Who was that masked man?”
Helping shape this historic adventure, a credo was assigned. The Ranger’s code of conduct might serve us mask-wearing multitudes.
Not at all alone like the Ranger, may our behavior be enhanced by how we collectively possess “the power to make this a better world.” To that, this masked man enjoins us to “live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number” and to “make the most of what equipment he has” available.
I suspect we all have the wearing of masks embedded somewhere in our pasts. Now very much in our present and immediate future, hopefully we find cause together to welcome wearing them and make for a safer and healthier world that serves to eventually rid this evil pandemic.
If this is the case, and accustomed to our in-public facial coverings, we might even occasionally pass one another on the street or aisleway, and with a slight twinkle in our eye be thinking, “I believe I know who’s behind that mask” followed by a gracious “Hi-Yo, there!”
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org