Freedom to Engage
There is a mysterious beauty that permeates my world in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Traveling through the streets of my adopted city, we no longer pass a person with eyes lowered and in silence. Instead, we now greet each other with an unbridled familiarity. There is an unspoken agreement that we are in this predicament together - and together, we will survive. We are strangers, and only by chance, do our paths cross. We take the opportunity to communicate in a manner that feels appropriate at this precise moment in time. Our lives intersect, and we bond through emotional turmoil or perhaps pure joy.
Neither a smile nor haunting distress can hide behind a mask. I observe, attempting not to miss an unintentional gesture. Minuscule movements are free to dance, delivering private messages. Whether we interact briefly or stop to discuss intimate details of our plight - we connect. Does the mask provide us with a carefree boldness to share secrets and empathize with abandon? Could it be that we are starving for companionship?
We have been in partial lockdown for over two months. Businesses are reopening slowly and with extreme caution. People are apprehensive about living in limbo. Not knowing what to expect - it is impossible to plan a future. The streets continue to be eerily quiet, and the overcast of uncertainty refuses to lift.
Before the isolation caused by COVID-19, a greeting was merely an acknowledgment of existence. Now when either a passerby or I utter, "Hello, how are you?" - there is an extended pause providing the space for at least a casual exchange, if not an opening for an in-depth conversation. There has been a significant shift in our priorities. We seek camaraderie in our struggle to understand and navigate these chaotic times. Will friendships develop from these encounters? It does happen. However, the purpose could be to fill a momentary void. In time we will know.
Living behind a mask respects and protects others but also serves as a unique and unexpected gift to ourselves. We intend only to shield, but we offer much more as we learn to freely practice the art of communication. Engaging with others can be magical!