Two years without smiles or precious faces! 2020/2021 were two years of minimal in-person interactions, two years of hiding, two historically notorious years that shockingly swept the entire globe. It was a tragedy of global import! Smileless, a new word I made up.
I’m Asian, you’re American! In the very early days of the pandemic, when Americans were not yet into putting on masks, I met an Asian woman at the mailbox. She was as Asian as I was, and had also been in the country for decades. She had a face mask on and I did not.
She gave me a glaring look and a solid round of scolding as to why I had not put on a mask. This was at a time when there were no mask mandates. I responded with some “scientific comment” about how, as a physician myself, I understood that masks were not really proven to be effective (agreeing at the time, funny enough, with the later-to-be-famous Dr. Fauci). And, since we were standing out in the spacious open air (actually even on a windy hillside), it wasn’t really a concern.
Unconvinced, she continued to berate me. Finally, in a last burst of exasperated logic, she pointed her finger at me and declared, “I know, now I know, the reason is, I’m Asian and you’re American!” This was the first time I had been so strongly accused of being an American, and I was dumbstruck! Truly speechless. Scolded for being an American!?
Later on, I realized that this kind of thinking was happening all around the world. In Asia, throughout the pandemic era, if you were a foreigner walking around with no mask, you were instantly labeled essentially as a barbarian. There were even restaurants which refused to serve foreigners.
However, in many parts of America, if you were an Asian during the earlier days of the pandemic and you were wearing a mask, you would look very strange, and would stick out like a sore thumb! There were even mocking comments about the Asian origin of the virus. Remember, the first American recommendations on masks implied if you were feeling sick, you should wear a mask to prevent your spreading any disease to others.
So in a sense, my jumpy neighbor may have been sort of right!
Sliding past each other with fear in the eyes. During the pandemic years, it seemed like everyone lived in a world of fear. There was fear of neighbors, fear of friends, fear even of family. People slid past each other as quickly as possible. Nobody seemed to be willing to stop and talk. A grunt might be all we heard. The so-called 6-foot separation became a chasm. Since we couldn’t see people’s faces well, we couldn’t remember others well, and we made practically no new friends. It was like time stood still.
When we passed by people, we often didn’t even know who was who! That’s why robbers all over the world instinctively mask up when committing a crime, since masks can evade even the most sophisticated Asian electronic surveillance systems.
Everyone had leprosy. The Biblical analogy is that everyone had leprosy. Don’t touch them, don’t get too close to them, stay far away. “Them” being everyone else. Whatever they have, it might be catching. Just for the record, contrary to common folklore, even leprosy is actually not really very contagious. See my story, “The Best Pain Doctor”, on Reggietales.org.
Everyone locked inside prisons. Another way to put it is that we locked ourselves in prisons and even poetically threw away the keys. Prison used to be a place where we were sent involuntarily as punishment for crimes. Yet during the COVID-19 years, millions voluntarily jumped into prisons, with or without government coercion.
Any food delivered to homes might be just left on the ground at the door, just like in darkest dungeons. Some families did not even dare to open the door for relatives, even when they were delivering food.
Should we evacuate our mission team in an epidemic? During our early medical mission time, there was an epidemic one year in the area where we served in the mountains. The question was raised whether, for safety’s sake, our mission team should be evacuated. As a Christian medical doctor in leadership, I quickly quashed that idea.
Definitely we should not! It was a time of great need and that’s why we were supposed to be there: to help, to heal, and to bring hope. As did early believers during the great plagues of Europe, who plunged in and helped the sick, poor and dying, with touching and long-lasting inspiring effect.
Did we evacuate the world spontaneously? For two years, throughout the world, except for a few brave churches, there was a massive evacuation of nearly everyone from churches. In Biblical terms, it was like a rapture had happened, when believers are understood to be taken out of this world. The physical church disappeared spontaneously, replaced by smartphone, laptop and TV screens.
Landing on Planet of Ghosts. Many years ago during the SARS epidemic, I wrote about the Masked Hysteria in Hong Kong then for the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper opinion page. Fear was so great then that it was like a horror movie.
I happened to land in the Hong Kong Airport at the height of the scare. The airport had been built for 80 million passengers a year, but when I walked off the plane, it was dimly lit, and eerily and totally deserted. It was like I had landed on a deserted planet of a few masked ghosts.
I had gone through this airport countless times, but never before had I seen it essentially empty. It was a prophecy of what was to come.
Good out of bad. But, as usual, some good does come out of even the worst of situations. Zoom meetings, although not that pleasant, were efficient. They mostly saved travel time. More grandmas getting used to seeing grandkids on electronic gadgets thousands of miles away was good, even though face-to-face is a lot better! It was certainly better than nothing.
And everybody became more conscious of many newish electronic options for communication. I was able to write many more stories and books during this forced prison time. But I sure hope, however, that we don’t just default into this easier, “lazier” approach. Go see Grandma face to face please!
Even newborn babies instantly prefer real human faces. My good friend, PW, designed a study that demonstrated that at birth, babies already instinctively prefer a human face that looks like a human face, and not something else.
In addition, developing babies need all the features of the real human face of the caregiver, to grow and develop in the right way (1).
All the smiles, winces, and even anger likely are important in development! In order to learn language, emotions and communication. The mask-muffled-mumbling of words is going to truly mess up babies’ learning, perhaps for life! Potentially a true “sensory deprivation” period, with life-long implications (1).
The whole face is important for everyone, even adults. Indeed, for young and old, every part of our face is important, from eyes, nose, cheeks and mouth, even to teeth. Every single part of the face signals some message of feeling, warmth and communication. And when we cover them up, all these communications are distorted.
In fact, to be totally frank, we all sadly became pretty monotonously ugly when masked. When I see pictures of people posing together with masks on, it’s certainly truly ugly. We might as well throw away these expressionless pictures of masks, masks, and masks, since they mean nothing, and it’s plainly silly to save the zombie-looking photos! Nobody wants to point out the obvious, just like no one pointed out the emperor with no clothes! It’s just obviously so ugly.
Ugly-looking babies? Everyone recognizes that normally babies are really cute and precious. I just adore the beauty of babies. But cover up the baby with a mask, and suddenly, even babies are no longer cute. In fact, they become almost ugly! There’s no beauty in a face that’s covered, sorry. We’re not born to be masked for sure!
Flying with totally covered lady. Once I was on a flight out of Saudi Arabia. Next to me in fancy business class was a lady totally covered from top to bottom. When the plane took off, I noticed that she started moving, and even started to pull off the top of her burka covering. I then casually but cautiously asked, “Are we permitted to talk?”
She instantly tore off her veil and burka head covering, revealing a “surprisingly” pretty lady. She laughed, and declared, “I hate this veil and all these things covering me. I love to talk.”
So she talked on and on, until we were about to descend into another middle eastern city. She then started putting everything back on, and remained quiet for the last minutes of the flight. Freedom is very precious, even for just one hour!
Smile, God loves you. Smiles are so precious. In pre-pandemic times, if a restaurant welcomed you with no smiles, would you want to go back again? No matter how good the food was, I would have little enthusiasm! There’s really no question that smiles make a huge difference in life. But for two years we saw few smiles.
Indeed, assuming a normal person needs a certain number of smile encounters each day to stay sane, my “smile quotient” fell drastically, by over 90%. The negative effects of “smile deprivation” should be a great topic for lots of research studies. Remember, I’m a clinical scientist and I would love to design such research studies.
Everyone is meant to be unmasked. A verse in the Greatest Book says that we are to be unveiled in order to ultimately see the glory of our Creator (2). Nothing should block that relationship! Not even a veil. There’s some deep meaning there, I’m sure.
Cosmetic symbol. During the pandemic, I followed orders from the top guys, and wore my mask in public indoor spaces, except for two situations.
When I was allowed to sit in restaurants, I was allowed to also be maskless. Even when chatting and laughing. But when I stood up in the restaurant, my mask was back on, presumably just a practical approach, but the two practices could be viewed as inconsistent!
Or when I was giving a talk (and presumably spewing forth loads of germs), thankfully (I guess), I was allowed to be maskless, even when the audience was all masked, and not even that far away, which isn’t that totally logical either. Sounds uncomfortably close to the concept of “rules for me aren’t the same as rules for you”.
No need to alarm people. Otherwise, masks were my cosmetic symbol that I was “chicken”, and I didn’t want to irritate any sensitive soul around me, even though I knew that, medically speaking, the masks were minimally effective.
But I took the mask off as fast as I could, when I stepped out into the open or anywhere with lots of circulating air, to take a deep breath of fresh air!
Faces and smiles are precious. I love freedom, freedom to breathe deeply, sing loudly and speak clearly! Freedom to smile openly and preciously. And freedom to see many lovely and precious smiles!
2. 2 Corinthians 3:18