Recently I drove out of Sherwood, down through North Little Rock, and over the Main Street Bridge in order to shop in Little Rock for my groceries. Under the leadership of Mayor Frank Scott and a City of Little Rock Declaration of Local Disaster Emergency 20-06, I was able to mask up and purchase my milk and bread and favorite cookies without encountering one fellow shopper, bagger, checker, or stocker without a mask.
As I understand it from my cursory reading of the entire thing, under the declaration, masks are now required for everybody (with certain clearly spelled-out exceptions) entering Little Rock grocery stores (considered essential services).
While I was south of the river, I spent money at a gas station and a hardware store (whose patrons are also required to mask since they too are designated essential services). After that, I left my glass recycling at Cromwell's glass deposit on Sixth Street (no mask required--just me and my cheap wine bottles), then stopped at one large retail store designated as a non-essential business, where persons are "exhorted" by the declaration (but as I understand it, not required) to wear a mask. Every single person in that store (I counted at least 25) had responded to the "exhortation" by wearing a mask (noses covered, I hasten to add).
Travel is always broadening, and my 14-mile trip that morning was no exception. I learned two important facts about myself that you too may share. First, as I briskly pushed my cart in the grocery and realized that finally everyone was falling in to work together, I got misty-eyed with gratitude among the produce. In our American pride in our individualism, leading us must be much like herding cats, but leadership is what we have been lacking in this fight, and the elected officials in Little Rock are to be applauded for acting. There does still seem to be potential for a common good.
Second, I had no idea until that morning how much anger I was carrying into the mask-wearing business. What was wrong with these people? I fear my anger at the bare faces was less from being frightened--although I probably should have been--but rather it carried my own version of political correctness. As the understanding of what we are facing in this virus enemy is becoming clearer, there is simply no room for that.
As Maya Angelou admonished us, "When you know better, do better." I can do better. We all can.
Although the covid-19 science has mutated much like the virus itself since February, the current position of the CDC is clear. Wearing a mask is the single most effective tool we have in turning back this disease. Admittedly, back when we were young and stupid four months ago, we were not given that advice. However, that early misstep is no excuse for ignoring the "wear a mask" position now. In fact, because of the time we lost in not using the masks, masking now is even more critical. We can do better.
Nor, in the fact of our current frightening situation with the escalation of the virus, is the question of mask-wearing as a political statement a valid argument for any one of us. Frankly, if you are not in the group wisely exempt from mask-wearing because of health issues, not wearing a mask is no longer a badge of individual freedom, but rather a symbol of utter disregard for the safety of others, deception as to the viability of an economic upturn, and disdain for the education of our children.
If you are already a mask-wearer, stop talking about "those people" and take action. Call your elected officials and your chambers of commerce, speak to your merchants where you spend your money, and tell your religious organization that it's your people, not the building, that matter. In the past week, at least a dozen Arkansas communities have passed mask ordinances, and others are considering them.
Stay safe. We can do better.
Dana Steward is a retired writing teacher from Sherwood and editor of the nature anthology "A Rough Sort of Beauty: Reflections on the Natural Heritage of Arkansas."