Service of Symbols III

May 14th, 2020

Categories: Illness, Medical, Symbols

1918 pandemic. Photo:

I wrote about religious and tourist symbols in 2011 and 2013 respectively. Some symbols, like the heart, dove, and owl that represent love, peace and intelligence, achieve their associations naturally. For 12 years I wore a school uniform–another form of symbol. We were asked to behave when out and about in NYC because we represented the school.

Masks in spring 2020 inadvertently have come to represent a range of things well beyond what the Center for Disease Control [CDC] attributes to them such as respect of the medical community that’s limping from overwork. It’s also a sign of cooperation with the effort to arrest a pandemic that is faced by the nation in some places more than in others.

1918 pandemic Photo:

Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Senate hearing on May 12 that “the mask should be a very regular part of preventing the spread of infection.” Note: He did not say “it’s more important in New York than in Oklahoma or North Dakota.”

The same day, at his daily news conference, New York Governor Cuomo said the mask means: “I respect you, your health, your privacy. And out of respect for you I wear this mask. This mask says I respect the nurses and doctors who killed themselves through this virus to cure people. I don’t cause more stress on nurses and doctors. I respect essential workers who drive the bus, train, deliver the food and keep lights on so I can stay home and safe. So I respect others.  The masks represent community unity.”

The CDC wrote on the nuts and bolts of mask use during this pandemic:

1918 pandemic Photo:

“In light of new data about how COVID-19 spreads, along with evidence of widespread COVID-19 illness in communities across the country, CDC recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in the community setting. This is an additional public health measure people should take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in addition to (not instead of) social distancing, frequent hand cleaning and other everyday preventive actions. A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others. This would be especially important in the event that someone is infected but does not have symptoms. A cloth face covering should be worn whenever people must go into public settings (grocery stores, for example). Medical masks and N-95 respirators are reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.”

I am surprised by how many people in NYC wear masks. We’re a maverick bunch. Most don’t like to be told what to do–for example we jaywalk and cross against the light much of the time. An incentive is that most stores won’t let people inside without a face covering. Only in a potentially crowded situation are New Yorkers asked to wear a mask which may be why some still don’t wear them walking in the street.

Is the converse true: Does not wearing a mask symbolize indifference and disrespect in addition to creating potential danger of spreading a deadly virus? Do you say anything to people who don’t wear one? Do you think wearing a mask–or not–has taken on political significance?


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11 Responses to “Service of Symbols III”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Thank you! I do feel not wearing protective gear is defiant. But am reluctant to have a fight about it. I see that some “rebels” who went to rallies maskless/ have died from this deadly plague!!!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree–to hang around someone who doesn’t have a mask to attack them with the fact is dangerous. It’s best to move on quickly. You don’t want them to slug you or breathe near you.

  3. Nancy Farrell Said:

    I agree with both of you. Also, there may be a medical reason someone is not wearing a mask. People with anxiety tell me they feel as though they are having panic attacks. I am not a doctor so what do I know?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I can imagine that some might feel claustrophobic though I didn’t think of it. I wore my new mask this morning–bought from the friend of your friend–thinking, “this will be toasty roasty in summer heat!”

    I’m not a jogger but when I walk briskly I feel my breathing which I don’t usually notice. But it doesn’t matter. It’s not about me and I can slow down.

    It was weeks before I passed a well dressed woman who strutted in the middle of the sidewalk puffing on a cigarette. I was furious but moved along as fast as I could as I imagined the virus droplets from this selfish person riding on the smoke and landing on me. Couldn’t she squirrel herself in the doorway of a closed business? Sure. But I wasn’t about to further expose myself to her to make that suggestion.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    To some people, the humble hiccup can have a left or right connotation, so why not associate a donkey, elephant or any other party with the mask? Summon common sense, and the mask is a protection device, and since I don’t care to get sick or die, let alone endanger anyone else, I’ll wear it, politics be damned!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Precisely. The virus is an equal opportunity killer. I cannot understand people in this country who ignore science. It makes little sense and is a poor reason to endanger others.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    We have to accept that we are essentially living through an apocalyptic moment completely bereft of a national government and in many cases state and municipal leadership.

    There is a kind of delusional confusion between preserving life and the most superficial of pleasures, coupled with spinelessness. Failure to follow any all medical guidelines from Dr. Anthony Fauci, Governor Cuomo and any other scientific and medical authorities who realistically and courageously address the all-encompassing, incredibly mysterious and lethal Coronavirus is simply inexcusable. It is inherently self-destructive and incredibly selfish. The nihilistic protests of the delusional who rail against masks, social distancing and any other preventive measures armed with AK-47s would be laughable for their absurdity except that they have lethal impact on all of society. These people may want to put their own lives at risk, but they have no right to do so for the rest of mankind.

    Not wearing a mask when appropriate is an act of stupidity and selfishness. When those in power contradict the best scientific minds, their own advisors and their own garbled instructions they manifest total disrespect for mankind and a strong proclivity to genocide. The twisted equation of such behavior by cowards pretending to be brave simply wreaks collective havoc.

    Since the whole world is threatened by the pandemic, it would be best if people realized that they cannot afford to operate simply solo, unconnected and irresponsible for the general good. As for opening up in the name of restoring the economy the businesses that simply act as incubators for the virus, it would be best to note that in addition to all the devastating expense of medical care and other disruption caused by illness, that the dead do not consume anything but funerary essentials.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I doubt anyone will be tried and convicted for making someone ill or killing them because they carried the virus and didn’t wear a mask. If, as time goes by, there is additional proof of the use of a mask in helping tamp down the virus, those shown in the presence of others when not wearing a mask with dire repercussions, should be punished, regardless of their position in society.

  9. Nancy Farrell Said:

    Jeanne: I’m glad your mask arrived. Yes, it is toasty with a mask on but some are more comfortable than others and I liked the feel and look of the masks this person made. My scarves weren’t cutting it and even my bandannas were giving me problems. I try to block out what other people are doing because I work myself up by focusing on others. Besides, I might not know the whole story (eg, those children playing too closely might be siblings who live in the same house). I try to think that we are all just doing the best that we can. A bit of a thread drift but yesterday I was in the self checkout line and I was struggling balancing my 3 bags in my mini cart. A woman came up to ask if she could help so I agreed. I thought she worked there but as it turns out she was just another customer on her way out. I appreciate her help.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The mask is reversible! We would make a fortune if we could invent an air conditioned one. A wet mask doesn’t work well, I read, so forget putting one in the freezer on a hot summer day.

    In the city I’m always on alert especially these days to stay clear of others and see where they are going so as to stear clear. I try to walk in the opposite direction of traffic so I can use the bicycle lane. I don’t like to be caught on the building side with no room to swerve out of the way.

    In the city it’s unlikely you’d see young children without a parent and in my neighborhood I don’t see tweens. The only time I speak with strangers is to ask them to back up if they crowd me at the cashier. You consistently come up with excellent and creative reasons for being quiet in other instances should a person have a yen to share an opinion.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:

    This is a Facebook comment responding to an article about face masks:

    “I try to wear a mask when I’m out & about. I developed PTSD after I was raped. One of my triggers is having anything covering my face for any length of time. Thus, I struggle a bit with wearing a mask. 😉”

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