This essay is about face masks, but it begins at Eisenhower High School in Rialto, Calif.,--a school I semi-dropped out of when I was a sophomore, first, because getting and being there was dangerous and, second, because it was a colossal waste of time.
Eisenhower in the 1980s was on the leading edge of what's now a sad national reality: urban schools inhabited by poorly educated and uninspiring teachers producing even more poorly educated graduates. Enabling this were parents and pseudo-leaders who only pretended to care.
There were two teacher exceptions. One was Charles Grande, my hero, about whom I have previously written in this newspaper. The other was Bonnie Rucker. In the mid-1980s, both were near retirement. They had been educated in the early 1950s, before the nation's cultural meltdown. So they actually had something to teach.
From Mr. Grande, I learned an approach to life. From Mrs. Rucker, I learned about a character named Cordelia in Shakespeare's "King Lear."
At the play's beginning, Cordelia's dad concocts a stupid game for his daughters to play before he announces their inheritances. Cordelia's two sisters go along. Cordelia refuses and, as a result, loses her inheritance.
Students of the scene might say that Cordelia was too abrupt. She could have responded more softly. She loved her father, though this isn't immediately obvious.
But at her core--in her heart--was an ideal or a principle she would not violate. She wouldn't play along just for the sake of getting goodies or for peace purchased at the expense of her own integrity.
I quickly forgot everything I learned about "King Lear" except this scene involving Cordelia. Since 1985 she has been among my key mentors. And she's telling me not to bow to the face-mask pressure. Here's why.
Since mid-March, this country has been roiled by a pandemic that by historical standards is minor. Yes, the virus is real. No, it's not a conspiracy against Donald Trump. Yes, it is dangerous to some populations. Yes, basic social-distancing is wise. But we're now nearly four months into a real-life version of the "Twilight Zone" episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street." And I don't assent.
I don't assent to the unnecessary damaging and killing of thousands of Arkansas businesses in the name of "safety." I don't assent to the robbery of thousands of people's basic life experiences like graduations and funerals. I don't assent to the extreme measure of completely shuttering places of worship, even as liquor stores thrive.
I don't assent to the disruption of everyone's life, because we have known from the beginning who needed protection, and the healthy 10-year-olds pushed from schools into the streets weren't among them.
So the people who did all this now implore us to don the suddenly sacred face mask, wrapping the message in moral blackmail of the "this-is-how-you-show-you-care" variety.
I'm sorry. You folks over-reached, brought great, unnecessary damage to many people, and enough is enough.
T he second reason has to do with the future. What will this bizarre episode look like 20 years from now, when markers stand where the private schools and colleges ruined by the covid-19 protocols used to be--when the entire interlude looks in retrospect like a global re-enactment of the "War of the Worlds" radio freak-out of 1938?
I'm sorry. I don't want to participate.
At the beginning of a jog the other day I told my son that perhaps in a month's time I'd be eating crow. Perhaps I would come to see that my resistance to Corona Orthodoxy, beginning on March 12, had been a mistake. I haven't really enjoyed being public about it.
But Cordelia, along with Socrates, Aristotle, Seneca and others, tell us that if we think the crowd is misguided, then we need to possess the will to step away.
Preston Jones, who lives in Siloam Springs, provides content for the website War & Life: Discussions with Veterans.