As some units of the Church return to more normalcy, including in-person meetings where muffled singing through masks is finally allowed, a challenge some will face is discomfort with those who don’t mask. There are some who say that even those who have been vaccinated or already have had COVID still need to keep wearing facemasks. There are those who feel that even small children need to wear masks. I think we need a reminder about the needs of others and the physical realities of life.
Wearing a mask can be more than annoying and uncomfortable. While evidence suggests that oxygen levels don’t drop as a result of wearing a mask, it can certainly make it harder to breathe. I recently gave a 90-minute presentation for the University of Utah’s Executive MBA program, and was surprised to find that even though I would be much more than 6 feet away from the nearest person in the audience, I was still required to wear a mask the entire time. I like to walk around, be somewhat animated, and talk fast and loud. I exercise a lot, but doing my presentation with a mask on was physically challenging (unlike just walking briskly through Walmart). I had to pause a moment to catch my breath a few times, occasionally pulling the mask slightly away from my face to take an unimpeded deep breath of air. My oxygen level was probably fine, but I wasn’t. Perhaps it was a low-permeability mask, I’m not sure.
The increased difficulty of breathing can be quite challenging for some people, including pregnant women, those with respiratory or heart problems, the elderly, and small children. If you have not been vaccinated for some reason and you see someone comes to church without wearing a mask, you may wish to maintain reasonable social distance, but please don’t be judgemental and angry. Don’t give them a lecture about their failure to think of the needs of others. Instead, assume that they may have needs that you don’t understand and be kind. Don’t order them to put on a mask. Don’t treat them as deplorables in need of shaming. If you suspect they may have forgotten their mask or just don’t have one for some reason, you could say, “By the way, if anybody wants a mask, there are some over there by the door to the chapel” (assuming your unit has wisely provided masks for those who need them).
Of course, if you have been vaccinated or have already had the disease, there is very little to worry about, so don’t fret over those who aren’t wearing a mask. Let others live their own lives, and if you still feel that your vaccination isn’t going to help, feel free to social distance and wear a mask, but don’t demand it of others. By the way, I have been vaccinated with no apparent adverse effects from the Pfizer vaccine, but I won’t judge you if you have not yet been vaccinated or don’t wish to take vaccine. I also won’t blame you if you share the skepticism expressed by Kamala Harris in her VP debate toward vaccines pushed by leaders you don’t trust: “if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.” But perhaps over time you may see that adverse effects are low and efficacy is high, which might lead you to reconsider. Your choice. This is an area where one old slogan may really apply: “my body, my choice.” Here it really is your body, not someone else’s young and vulnerable body with a separate brain, heart, circulatory system, unique DNA, etc. People should be able to choose what medications and what vaccines are injected into their system.
I know some very good people who are not coming back to our church meetings until the requirement to wear a mask is dropped. Some of these people have been vaccinated or have already had the disease and have no need to wear a mask, and some are physically challenged when wearing one. Should we not be considerate of their needs and welcome them back? Should we not welcome those who struggle with breathing, or, like many of the little children among us, can’t stand the discomfort of masks? Or have we rewritten a verse of scripture to “Make the children suffer before they come unto Me”?
Speaking of inviting all to come unto Christ, the insistence so far on mask wearing, coupled with the ban on singing that was just lifted last week in our ward, may be a particular burden for the many African Saints and investigators from the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi in our wonderfully diverse community. My wife and I have the most enjoyable calling ever now that we’ve been asked to focus on helping the many immigrants from Africa in our midst. We’ve been so impressed with them for many reasons, including their ability to speak what strikes me as the hardest language I’ve studied, Swahili. Easy to read and pronounce, yes, but such complex grammar. Amazing to see a short verb stem blow up into a word two or three times as long after adding all the prefixes and suffixes that might be needed for a particular nuanced situation. How so many people master it as a second or third language is just a wonder to me. It seems that at least some of them are used to vibrant singing and warm social interactions, and without that, I think it’s been far more difficult adjusting to Latter-day Saint worship than it should be. They are doing a great job complying with masking requirements, though some children tend to come without them.
May we be able to be warmer in our greetings and more joyous in song soon.