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Musings on wearing and making masks

Who knew masks would be a hot topic in national news; on Facebook; in tweets and on Twitter; in daily conversation? Who knew that the lack of masks would become a critical need in hospitals and in health care centers? Who knew that mask making would become not only an art form but a way for volunteers to safe lives?

I’d venture to say not many of us knew any of this until the pandemic made its way to the United States. So, out of idle curiosity, I decided to Google “the history of masks.” As always, Google came through with an array of sources. My choice of sites was 100 percent random. So what follows is a random sampling of that random choice.

Sister Regina Marie McIntyre leaving Corbe House to go to Providence Hall.

Masks have been part of all cultures since the Stone Age – a period of history beginning in 30,000 BCE and ending 3,000 BCE! (Masks must fill some deep need in human life to still be around!)

Historically, why did people wear masks? In my superficial research, I found various reasons. I’ve chosen a few that seem linked to our mask experiences of today.

Scaring away evil or malicious spirits prompted both Celts and Native Americans to use masks. The Celts believed that masks protected the living by confusing the ghosts and by driving away malicious spirits. Native Americans believed that masks drove away the evil spirits that caused sickness and suffering.

Is there some remnant in us of the Celts’ and Native Americans’ view of masks?

Just picture the very large plastic masks that cover the faces of medical personnel! These large masks are designed specifically to drive away what causes sickness and suffering. Thank you, God, for gifting scientists and engineers and manufacturers with the knowledge and skill to protect the living!

Bring to mind the variety of “regular people,” willingly wearing masks at the grocery store, pumping gas, delivering mail or takeout orders, working at food banks, going for a run or taking a walk. It seems we still believe masks help to drive away sickness and suffering!

Donning of masks may be our version of using masks for religious purposes. What could be a more visible way of loving than my wearing masks for the sake of protecting not me but the other, the neighbor? It took a long time for me to understand how my mask protects you from me and your mask protects me from you! Maybe a pandemic version of “love one another” would be “Wear a mask!”

“Make a mask” might be another response to the gospel call to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

As the Sisters of Providence became more and more aware of the pandemic, its consequences, and of ways to protect ourselves, our staff and our residents in our health care facility, we put out a call for mask makers.
In a matter of hours, we had volunteer after volunteer respond. Our sisters, Sisters’ family members, staff members, our Providence Associates, and friends of the Congregation stepped up immediately.

This generosity resulted in a plentiful supply of masks! It gave us so many mask choices! Masks came with different fasteners – tie around the head and neck or loop elastic over the ears. Masks arrived in a broad spectrum of colors – from gentle, floral pastels to bold geometric patterns Volunteer mask makers even made small, medium and large sizes. Thanks to the mask makers, the mask wearers have fun choosing a mask-of-the-day, a mask to match an outfit, to express a mood So masks serve as style statements and a symbol of someone’s good wishes for health and safety.

Let’s take our place then in a long history of mask wearers and mask makers. Let our masks keep ourselves and our neighbors safe and well. Let our masks make us smile as we remember the ones who chose and cut and sewed fabric because they knew what a huge impact a small bit of fabric, and a short length of elastic would make in the lives of thousands. Let our masks be one more way to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Let’s wear our masks trusting as did Mother Theodore, “in the Providence of God that so far has never failed us.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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3 Comments

  1. Mary Carroll Blocher on May 21, 2020 at 11:02 am

    Thanks for the mask report. You did it with good information, humor, style and gratitude.

    However, wearing the darn thing is not easy. Can’t breathe very well, glasses fog up, elastic gets tangled with hearing aides and I get a smothering effect.

    But, I will wear it to protect myself, my loved ones, my friends and neighbors and I thank all the mask makers.

  2. S. Denise Wilkinson on May 21, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    I so get it Mary Carroll! They are a pain in the neck – and I keep forgetting my mask and having to turn around and get after I’ve left the house. But then – some of our “neighbors” aren’t easy to love either…so it’s a tie!

  3. Mary Tomlinson SP on May 22, 2020 at 10:59 am

    Denise. Good information. Thanks for researching the use of masks in the past. One day we will look at this time as just another episode of warding off evil viruses. As you point out, we can have some fun with all of this. Mary

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