Last week I was driving my daughter home, and as we got off the interstate, the car in front of me drove straight through a red light, then didn’t use blinkers to make two left turns. The driver pulled into my neighborhood and stopped on the side of the road.

I pulled alongside him and saw he had his head in his hands; he was clearly having an awful, no good, very bad day. I waved to get his attention, and he saw me, but he wouldn’t roll down his window. He knew he was driving like a fool, and he was suspicious of what I was going to do. I, looking like a fool myself, loudly mouthed, “You have a taillight out,” hand gestures and everything. He nodded OK, and I drove off.

Honestly, it wasn’t until after I drove off that I recognized the decision I had made, because as I was pulling up to him I thought I was going to give him the single-finger salute, point to my kid in the car and say, “You could kill someone; get off the road!” But I recognized this man was hurting; the way he looked made me feel like he’d either lost his job, his wife or maybe both. I prayed my choice was able to give him peace that he obviously needed in that moment.

So ... about the masks, mask-wearing and mask mandates. I don’t think it‘s hard to wear a mask in public, though admittedly I’ve been wearing one almost every day for 20 years. But I see people acting a fool about wearing masks, about asking children to wear masks, arguing about the effectiveness or the use of masks, and I wonder what this is really about — because it can’t really be about this little piece of cloth.

But it could be about fear. And there are so many things of which to be afraid on this tiny little rock that we seem to be making spin faster and faster with all our fear. There’s fear of change, fear of our children not having the same experiences in the world that we did, fear of the immediate climate crisis and knowing we are not doing nearly enough to slow it down, fear of there not being enough in the world, fear of the scales of justice tipping against us, fear of abandonment — being left behind or left alone. I could go on, but it gives me chest pain. It’s so scary to face these fears that I feel people are saying no, nope, nada, not one more thing. I won’t wear this mask.

All choices come down to two things: love or fear.

Choose love.

Choose it and recognize that when someone else isn’t choosing it, it’s probably because of their fears. But here’s the trick: It’s only when we slow down, and I mean really slow down, stop the car fully and completely, that we can see people in their pain and respond with compassion.

Yes, we can respond with compassion, because these fears … we all have them. We are one.

If you’ve read this far and this resonates with you and you know how hard it is to slow down and see this, know in this moment, right now, you need to give yourself some compassion. Our wells of compassion have to be pretty full to not be triggered. But start here and know in this moment, you are OK; you are living, you are breathing, you are seen, you are not alone. We are one.

Julie McWhorter, MD, is a practicing physician in Columbia.


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