Kerry Lester Kasper, Tribune News Service
In the sad reality that is middle age, I have lost more friendships than I ever thought possible. Abdications to an ex. A move from the suburbs to the city, a change in jobs. Doing a generally poor job keeping up with real and meaningful connections amid the daily chaos of being a working parent during a prolonged pandemic.
So it’s through this lens that I have found that one of my very best friends today is an anti-masker, someone who I thoroughly disagree with on the subject and yet still cling to tightly because I can’t bear to lose another important bond.
My relationship with — I’ll call her M — started long before COVID-19, when we happened to run into one another with newborns strapped to us in slings. Her daughter was three months older than mine, a long, chubby baby with adorable little tufts of black hair. Mine was tiny and feisty, a ferocious eater making up for lost time.
Motherhood — a continual state of second-guessing for me — was and continues to seem completely natural to M. She breastfed, with ease, while we had a first coffee at a pretentious local pastry shop. She knew how to get her tiny little wonder to sleep for hours on end — I, meanwhile, felt helpless and close to tears consulting books about the “healthy sleep habits” of “happy children.”
Then, we started to run, sometimes so early it was before sunrise, a jog that efficiently covered 5 miles and the stresses of the week all in one.
When COVID-19 struck, she became one of my only outlets outside my own home.
As we navigated the beginning stages of lockdown, I’m not sure either of us had strong views — other than a perpetual state of uncertainty and a shared sense of frustration over the lakefront running path’s closure.
But what solidified over time was an assurance that I had her back and she had mine, a commitment that grew even as it became increasingly clear we were on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
I find bottles of soy sauce and almond flour on our stoop when I’m running low. When her washing machine broke, ours served as her local laundromat.
Yet, one recent Saturday, the day after a group of parents won an injunction against masking in schools, I caught my breath, reading her text: “Would you sign a petition for (the girls’ preschool) to be mask optional? (Totally OK if not).”
I promised that I’d dig through the research and let her know but did so with the sinking feeling of an impending breakup.
As a longtime journalist, life exists for me in a perpetual shade of grey. It drives my lawyer husband, who sees everything in black and white, nuts. There’s all too often one more fact, one more study, one more comment, that keeps me considering exactly where right and wrong lie.
And with COVID-19 — while I tend to place my confidence in our national experts — the increasing distrust and anger over continued restrictions among those in M’s camp befuddles me. What am I missing? How could this otherwise perfectly reasonable person feel such anger over the rules I’ve trusted the powers that be to implement?
What I do know, for now, is that we ultimately come down on opposite sides of the seriousness of the virus and the right of a government to restrict or deny access to citizens based on personal health choices. I worry about unwittingly passing on a deadly infection and that my unvaccinated toddler could be the one to develop a rare, serious form of COVID-19.
M worries about the social and emotional developmental ramifications for masked children and likens the requirement of having to show her vaccination card at a local restaurant to being asked to give an intensely private medical exam in public.
I’m fully cognisant that we each come to this debate from a place of fortune — that our spouses and children are healthy, that neither of us has lost extended family members to COVID-19.
As our school moves to a “mask recommended” state in the coming weeks, our cards will be on the table — her daughter unmasked and mine masked until a vaccine is available.
When I told her about this column, I had a good hunch about what her response would be before she even sent it. “I’m honored.”
I am, too, for a connection that is based on such trust despite disagreement.
I’m not sure our little ones will be able to comprehend why they will all of a sudden look different from one another in class. But I hope, like their moms, that they’ll be able to look past it for the sake of friendship.
Maybe someday, our politically polarised nation can, too.
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