Why I Don’t Feel Bad When Anti-Maskers Die
It began a few weeks back, in a moment when my heart sank as I read across the screen and learned that a friend had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She had been diagnosed with cancer and was told that she’s probably going to die right then and there, she was breaking the news to the world. Her post was devastating. Her tone was distraught as she regretfully posted her misfortunes, such horrific news that instantly conjured up in my mind saddening images of her slowly plucking out each keystroke in tears and deep despair, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the situation she inhabited. It was a situation she couldn’t escape from; she had no choice in the matter. What else can we feel but horror when someone experiences such a tragic event, especially when that person is one of the people we’re close to? Hold on to that question and we’ll get back to it in a minute…
The late-thirty-something-year-old had received the news that she’d been diagnosed with cancer in her brain, a comparatively difficult cancer to treat. My heart agonizes for her as I type this and especially because this newest battle with cancer wasn’t going to be her first go-round, either. What started off as breast cancer was eventually beaten back into remission some years ago, thankfully, but after spending years off the radar, it finally returned in her brain without warning. Just when everyone assumed it was safe and that her life would be normal from this point onward, we were all proven wrong.
I felt utterly helpless as my girlfriend and I reacted with the same responses of disbelief and sadness, our jaws dropping aghast at the news we read. An overwhelming sadness overtook me, one that I couldn’t shake…
“Why must life be so cruel?” I asked myself internally. My girlfriend verbalized my thoughts for me, saying aloud, “Why is life so unfair?” One of the great cruelties of life is that it must end at some point. Nobody makes it out of their existence alive.
It’s tragic and downright unfair when a wonderful, sweet, and caring person, someone who always puts others before themselves falls victim to the unpredictable and often vicious circumstances of life.
Life doesn’t pick the bad ones to die first and save the good ones until a ripe old age, and death is indiscriminate in who it takes. Our virtues have no bearing on the length of our lives and the good often die far too young.
But while I feel this deep sorrow for my friend, I have to wonder how often we extend that kind of respect and sorrow to people who are perfect strangers…I don’t have to reach back far into my memory before I yield another case where someone got sick and I didn’t extend the same courtesy to a stranger, but the reason wasn’t proximity — I’ll admit — it was more of a factor of choice.
In ordinary circumstances, I do feel bad thinking about the deaths of others, even strangers on the other side of the planet. If you’re anything like me, you probably feel the same. Even if it’s nowhere near the magnitude of the great remorse and sadness that strikes us when someone close to us dies. The death of a Chinese boy across the world is quite sad but the death of your own child will rock your world in a way that words can’t suffice to describe. But to feel nothingness for this person? Indifference? How is that even possible?
It was only weeks prior to my friend’s diagnosis that a man named Richard Rose died of COVID-19 over one thousand miles away from my friend and me. Richard Rose become an internet spectacle after his Facebook account was left up in the wake of his death, and thousands of people shared his braggadocious posts about his steadfast refusal to wear a mask during a pandemic; an act, it should be noted, that carries a risk for both the person in question and everyone else around them.
Rose posted a lot about his support for President Trump, who’s denied the virus’s impact, and seemed careless about the possibility of contracting it. This sparked an international debate about public shaming someone after their deaths, a debate pretty much everyone I know (and probably everyone you know) participated in.
A few days after these posts were made, Richard Rose was dead. He died from COVID-19, the very same virus that he’d so carelessly dismissed as little more than “hype”. When it came to my turn to discuss the situation, I asked friends of mine to be kind and keep Mr. Rose’s family in mind, considerations that quickly went unanswered and unheard in the sweeping mob of social media justice and political dunking points.
Let me be very clear, here, I don’t advocate the incessant sharing of his posts and constant bombardment of social media attention, with commentary the likes of calling the man stupid and laughing at his death, commentary that his grieving family has received and been forced to endure in the ensuing weeks after his death…
But do I feel bad for Richard Rose? No, no I don’t…not in the slightest…
And it’s not because I disagree with Mr. Rose politically, it really has nothing to do with that, what it has to do with is the fact that in his incessant disregard, he put so many incalculable lives at risk by the nature of his selfishness. Is it wrong for me not to care? I don’t think so…
While I don’t think we should beat a dead horse and drive a point home at the expense of other people just because it makes us feel good, and I don’t think we should champion a political cause at someone else’s expense (especially when all we really did was click a “share” button) — I still don’t feel bad for him…I can’t work up the empathy necessary to do so. Am I a monster? I’d like to think not.
He made his grave, quite literally, and now he’s lying in it.
Contrasting these two people, I stop and think about my newly diagnosed friend who’s about to start up another round of battling the deadly disease of cancer. I think about her pain and her frustrations that she’s been sharing with me and other friends explicitly. She tells me the hospitals are proverbial zoos and uploads photos for her friends to see how hectic it is when she’s in for treatment. It’s chaos where she is and the bulk of the chaos, the medical staff tells her, is from the influx of coronavirus patients here in Florida, the new epicenter of the illness, patients who invariably say, “I didn’t take this thing seriously. I thought it was a joke.”
Hospitals are usually very boring and there’s little else to do but to offer up a play-by-play report on social media of whatever banal thoughts strike you in the moment, complete with tagging the exact hospital you’re in and who’s there with you. But now, instead of uploading the usual photos of empty waiting rooms with a handful of sleeping guests, it’s packed hallways and cramped settings that characterize a much gloomier scene.
Here in Florida, we’ve become the new epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak. The staff is taxed, the nurses are tired, the doctors exhausted. There’s hardly any room for anyone as hospital resources are being stretched to or beyond capacity. And in the wake of this, people are dying. In some counties across the US, we’re starting to see some hospitals have resorted to prioritizing the patients who’ll most likely survive, sending the others home to die in the comfort of their own homes with friends and family. Who knows how many people without COVID are dying from other illnesses because the staff working in the medical industry are just stretched too thin?
I think about how much more difficult her path will be because of these material obstacles, but I also think about how much of a slap in the face it must be for her to be dealing with the fact that she’s likely going to die young and others are flaunting death and making it into a political statement. She’s really staring death in the face while others boastfully treat it like it’s some sort of game, like it’s not real; like it’s just another piece of political propaganda. The flagrant denial of death itself in the face of death itself for political aims is what anti-maskers are doing, all the while they create more death on a massive scale. How insensitive is that?
Imagine the moment you’re told you have to battle a disease that will likely kill you and you stop and look around to see all of these people disbelieving a virus that’s killed 150,000+ Americans is real or that it’s serious…Imagine the disgust you would feel looking around at people willing to put the lives of everyone around them at direct risk because their political leader and President Sociopath has told them that’s the best way for them to be loyal to him.
The truth is, I can’t feel bad for Mr. Rose. His carelessness is precisely the type of attitude that caused my friend’s hospital to be overwhelmed and the healthcare workers who are there risking their lives every single day to become so taxed, so worn-down, and so hopeless at times that they feel like they can’t even muster up another minute, let alone an hour, shift, or full workday.
I don’t want to be mean when I say that I don’t feel bad when anti-maskers die. It’s not a rhetorical statement geared to be intentionally emotionally charged, it’s not a political rallying cry, but something I’ve thought long and hard about and a statement I make with no malice, pride, or indignation. These are real people with real lives, and I take no joy in my disregard for them. But they did it to themselves at the direct expense of others. I won’t partake in the mocking and public shaming of Richard Rose — enough damage has been done on that front — but no one can make me feel bad for him. I feel bad for my close friend, someone with a deadly illness that she in no way asked for, someone battling the hardship through no fault of her own.
I understand the temptation of my friends to mock and ridicule, and their frustration with anti-maskers, people who’ve done everything in their power not to comply with public health and safety. These people have caused the American pandemic to grow out of control like a wildfire that consumes everything in its path, leaving far too much death in its wake. They’re as complicit in that cumulative death as is President Trump through their willful ignorance of the facts and refusal to observe even the most basic science because their pride gets the best of them and they’ve actually put other people in danger in order to salvage their own egos and political identity. It’s despicable. I don’t feel bad for people who make a political spectacle of death when so many others live it every single day in horror.
Our society is deeply fractured, and we desperately need to save it and that starts with changing our minds about how we view the most serious things in life, the utmost serious of all being death. Disregarding public safety by making mask-wearing a political issue is the kind of humanist sin I can’t forgive and the sinner I a person I can’t bring myself to care about.
I don’t actually want people to die, I don’t want their lives to be flushed away unnecessarily, I want as many people as possible to live a full and vibrant life, dying peacefully someday on their deathbed surrounded by loved ones — not strapped to a ventilator in fear, being intubated after a virus took hold of their body that caused many of their vital functions to cease — mostly breathing.
Suffocating seems like a terrifying way to go. My advice is to consider these consequences and wear a mask, it’s scientifically indisputable that masks are efficacious when it comes to stopping viruses including the novel coronavirus. Take this thing seriously. And please, if you want any empathy from me, take the health and the lives of other people seriously. This thing isn’t a joke. Take it seriously and don’t put other people at risk.