Notes from Home: Who’s Afraid?

I want to write about a simple thing: wearing face masks. I want to say that I think the people who don’t wear face masks in public, where they might come in too-close contact with other people who they might contaminate or be contaminated by, don’t wear them for one main reason: they are afraid of looking afraid.

With protests exploding across the country over the death of yet another innocent black man at the hands of yet another insensitive white policeman, this seems a paltry topic. Yet there may be a connection.

I write about fear a lot because I have it in spades. Always have. Sometimes it seems to be growing, but it might be only that my awareness of it has increased. As I age, and can look back at otherwise incomprehensible chapters of my life, I can see the role that fear has played when it was formerly invisible. Maybe that’s wisdom, I don’t know. I do know that it’s painful. Fear is painful.

So it’s right to be afraid of fear, maybe even wise. It can suck the life out of you, know what I mean? The joy, the hope, the awareness of beauty, mystery, the possibility of Presence. Fear is a brick wall between the self and all these things. But fear of fear is like double indemnity (whatever that is), a survival instinct doubled back on itself, a crink in the hose.

I think our President doesn’t wear a mask (even when he comes in too-close contact with other people who he might contaminate or be contaminated by) because he’s afraid of looking afraid. Un-Presidential. Un-Donald Trumpian. “Nah,” friends have said, “he’s afraid of messing up his hair,” or “he can’t stand the thought of muffling his mouth.” Whatever the reason, I think it all amounts to being afraid of looking afraid—afraid of looking cautious, careful, respectful of something outside his control. Afraid of being seen as not in control, even when wearing the face mask is one of the few ways we have of bringing this virus under control, or at least keeping it from wiping the human species off the face of the planet until we find something to combat it.

Maybe the same instinct was operating in that policeman who took a knee to the neck of an innocent man and snuffed the life out of him. Maybe the fear of looking afraid took that policeman by the throat and snuffed out the life of reason or caring in him, made him promenade his power over fear in front of the camera and crowd, swaggering over fear in front of his fellow policemen. Maybe he didn’t even realize that was a man he had pinned to the ground, dying, but instead thought he’d captured and defeated a bogeyman, a dragon, an evil force from the Planet X. The insanity of it shatters me.

So it’s safer for me to say that I don’t know. What I do know is that the fear of fear is a terrible thing. It makes us unreasonable, puts a crink in the hose of caring even for ourselves. It makes us do stupid, harmful things, like shoot off our own foot. And most of all, it makes the Devil laugh. Gotcha.

Trudy Wischemann is a careful writer in Lindsay. You can send her your observations about mask-wearing c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit and leave a comment there.

– This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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