The expressions we share with one another are a delicate human dance, a form of communication that is essential for social interaction.

I hate wearing a face mask, and I try to avoid places where one is required. There is no doubt in my mind that wearing a face mask is important and could be life saving, so if your panties were in a bunch, you can now relax.

I hate wearing a face mask because I miss the information I receive from the faces of strangers. When I see your face, I read it. Are you happy, angry, frightened, open to conversation or want to be left alone? Is that even you behind the mask? I don’t know unless I am familiar enough with the way your body moves. The value of information on a human face was not truly recognized by me until the sight of it began to be limited.

The nuances of emotion in expression are like the words in a sentence. Those of us that identify as the ‘watchers’ like me, are suffering from this lack of reading material. We are at a loss as to how to communicate. It took me a few months to understand why I feel stressed, panicked even, when I am in the midst of masked strangers. When I know it is you, and who you are in the moment, I have the information I need to respond in turn.

The expressions we share with one another are a delicate human dance, a form of communication that is essential for social interaction.

My daughters and husband have told me that my annoyance with baristas or check out clerks who ask, “do you have any good plans for later today,’ is easy to see. They say that my body language says, “None of your business.” This is exactly what I’m thinking. Yet, though I find such questions intrusive, I do not want to be rude. Apparently I fail even even though I don’t say what I am thinking. The message is on my face, in my body language.

As an introvert, the idea of staying at home is heaven. I am finally freed from unwanted social obligations, unnecessary conversations and gatherings where though I like the people, I often find overwhelming. There is time to think, to explore my camera lens, to write and paint. I have enough space in my head for ideas to take form. When it is up to me, I enjoy one on one or intimate meet ups. I like to have in-depth conversations versus social surface talk.

So I was surprised when things like visits to my local grocery store, farmer’s market or a hike in the mountains left me stressed and grief stricken. The human beings I tend to encounter in these places are not people I am personally attached to. I underestimated how the stories I read upon your face provides me with the information I need to feel connected and safe, to share and communicate in a nonverbal way.

I don’t understand the polarization of masks. The way people on both sides have become judgmental, unkind, and political about them saddens me. Fear is palpable.

There is fear in the eyes above so many masks and this is not something that creates an environment of trust. When we exist in fear, we stop life in its tracks.

I understand the fear because I have it too.

Our society is currently one of judgement and shame. “Shame on you for not wearing a mask. Shame on you for wearing a mask. Shame on you for going to a party, visiting your grandparents, meeting a friend” and so on.

Shame thrives in the darkness and I am not aware of any moment when shame produced a positive outcome.

Social interactions and connectedness is suffering right now. Suspicion rules.

There are moments when I suspect I am slipping into the life of a recluse. Alone, or with those I most trust and love, is the safest space. This is an easy slide for me. I am so out of practice with the small talk necessary in life, that I feel like a spotlight is being shone into my eye sockets when neighbors or strangers speak to me.

As an introverted human being, I have always felt a measure of discomfort with sharing my personal space.

These days, I do not tend to look at others when I am food shopping, riding my bike or out on a hike. Instead I check to make sure I am at least six feet away and that my mask has not slipped off of my nose. My best friend or children could be passing right by me and I would not know it.

This saddens me. I am saddened because even though I am not a woman who enjoys banal chitter chatter, I do thrive on connection. Human beings need one another. There is no chance for connection when we pass one another like a shadowy mist.

All of us have a story to tell about a magical chance encounter. Maybe it was chatting with the woman in the rest room, a bus driver who told us a story from his past or a lively, unexpected connection with the man or woman standing behind us in the check out line.

Life is a living quilt created from such moments. Moments that we do not look for. This magic is possible when we leave ourselves open to possibility.

To combat this lack of connection, this panic, this distrust, I’ve tasked myself with something.

When I am out on my bike or walking on the path near home, I say “Good morning.” Not to everyone I pass, but as many as I can. I try to make the assumption I will be met with connection. This helps me turn my mind from fear or lack of trust to possibility because it alleviates the tension I tend to anticipate. This does not always result in a positive response mind you. But, at least I try.

You might counter by saying, well we really can’t trust others to do the right thing. This is true. I suppose the choice comes from what you want to do with this reality.

I chose to do it anyway.

I do this because on a bad day a few weeks ago, a man said “Good morning,” though my head was down. He was cheery as all get out. I was surprised and began to cry as I moved past him.

My emotional response was due to the realization that random acts of kindness have become rare. And oh, how I have missed them.

Such a simple thing.

You know how they say you cannot remain angry if you force your face into a smile or listen to a child giggle? Holding on to stress is almost impossible when you look into the eyes of your masked neighbor and smile. He or she might not see it, but they will feel it.

Try it.