Turning Problems Into Solutions Requires Energy
A few weeks ago, I started writing about the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director’s ableist comment, in which she claimed that masks are the “scarlet letter” of the pandemic. But something about burnout or writer’s block kept me from getting the words in by my deadline, so I found a way to write around it by talking about my temporarily injured finger instead.
Earlier this week, a federal judge in Florida revoked the CDC’s authority to enforce a federal mask mandate on public transportation, effectively and immediately ending the protections that were helping to keep everyone safe amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Videos appeared of airline employees announcing the new policy midflight to planes full of people who then unloosed their masks from their ears in jubilant celebration. Literally, cheers. Applause.
The next day, I heard some outlets refer to it as “The Great Unmasking.” Finally! The day we’ve all been waiting for: the “V-J Day in Times Square” portrait marking the end of this years-long war! We can finally share close air space with all the excitement of a man who survived the trauma of the trenches!
What isn’t directly clear in that famous photo is the truth: a U.S. Navy sailor is kissing a total stranger without consent. All a viewer can tell is that her face is hidden, and this is a celebration.
On Twitter, I scrolled through tweet after tweet from people with underlying conditions who felt left behind by a country set on pushing an ableist agenda in response to an international crisis that’s proven to most dramatically disadvantage the disabled. Some of the tweets were by people who were on these flights, trapped on a flying Pringles tube full of recycled and newly germ-infested air.
The stakes here can’t be understated: People will die from this decision, from these behaviors.
Sitting in my and my partner’s Ikea office chair, in the helpless safety of our apartment, I kept wondering how it got this bad. When, exactly, did people wrongly stop seeing COVID-19 as their problem, too?
The reality of the pandemic for me, and many others, is this: Over the past two years, I have watched the world around me care less and less about whether I’m welcome in places I used to be able to, at the very least, enter without risking either the length or quality of my life: classrooms, hallways, grocery stores, restaurants, bars, concerts, clothing stores, art museums.
This week, I watched people applaud as they stripped away one of the few things keeping me, and other disabled people who deserve to exist in society, alive. The CDC director’s words stuck in the back of my mind like a tamping rod.
By her logic, if a mask is an ugly reminder of trauma no one will accept or believe, then at some point my mask becomes a symbol of my vulnerability, and that will eventually turn my disability into the enemy that others feel they need to fight. It’s already happening.
So often in this pandemic, the burden of the invisible COVID-19 beast taking over our lives has fallen on those of us most vulnerable to it. It’s worth mentioning that this weight gets heavier with every additional marginalized identity of each person’s own chimera.
I looked away from my phone, down at my brown poodle-haired dog, Azzie, who (aggressive snuggle buddy that he is, a nickname we regularly welcome him with) took my eye contact as a welcome invitation to smoosh his chin onto my leg, almost as if to remind me that I have legs. He’s good at that — knowing when my emotions need grounding back into my body.
As a thanks, I took him for a walk. I looked at the sky. Azzie practiced not wanting to meet every other dog he saw, and I let his nose guide us through the blooming spring day. We found a park near the apartment we’d never been to with gazebos and picnic tables and a bench under a tree next to a creek.
All problems need solutions. But if we’re ever going to have the emotional capacity to solve them, we have to first find room for ourselves to feel welcome in the space around us, to remind ourselves of what we’re fighting to be included in.
We sat and watched the water wear away at the rocks. I thought about the hard edges of stone that have become smooth over the years, that continue to soften. I wondered about who gets to decide others’ fates, and about the faces that get obscured, or revealed, through time. Mostly, I gave myself permission to think about what to do next.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.