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    blue disposable mask hanging on a chain link fence

    When Masking and Vaxxing Threaten a Friendship

    It was she, member of the resistance against both masks and vaccines, who showed me, the vaccinated mask-wearer, how we bridge the rift.

    By Jamie Santa Cruz

    January 14, 2022
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    • Gina

      I appreciate this.

    • Cynthia Gail Knisley

      Beautiful story that is much needed. Thank you. Whether we call it grace or kindness, generosity or goodness, if we all were to take this approach, even when our first response screams NO, the result would be amazing!

    • Lisa Tuckett

      Wonderful essay. Many if us are in the same boat. We must choose kindness.

    • geri ozak

      I suppose...you have the right to die anyway you want too. Good luck w/that.

    • Jo Chopra-McGowan

      I absolutely love this. How graceful, how humble - you and Eliza both.

    • Treyeshua Tomeny

      Thank you for this beautiful story. May God bless you and keep you as you learn to live without fear. He is the true justice warrior who uses his mysterious ways to both divide us and bring us together, for eternity, in Jesus Christ.

    • Nancy Brown

      I appreciate your vulnerability and honesty in telling this story. My hope is that ppl who do not understand those who are not participating in the rituals will at some point appreciate that this choice is deeply rooted and nuanced, based in science, health, values, experience, and principles (not "conspiracies"). But I do think ppl with open minds will eventually come to see a much broader perspective on the last couple years, especially as the censorship is relaxed.

    • Cari L Wiebe

      Thank you for writing this, it was very encouraging. We are the only unvaxxed in our extended family. In Canada, that means we are very limited in any kind of recreational activities, no restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, or pools, normally this is NO big deal, we live a simple life. Our family always goes to a hotel for a weekend of fun, which my parents give to us kids and our families for as a gift. This year instead of joining in the family fun around the pool we will be confined to our room. Its a hard choice, and one that is heartbreaking, madding, and confusing. In the end I ask myself what is more important my feelings or my family? So we will go, maybe not all of us, maybe just for the day, but we will try and look past the obvious exclusion, and try and focus on keeping family ties strong. I don't have all the answers but if we all don't find some common ground, find some compromise, the loss will be too great.

    • Amy

      That amazing the act of kindness good news story!

    • Sam B

      THAT was beautiful!

    The original plan was to meet at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

    “Eliza” and her family would drive up from their home in Georgia, and my family would meet them there as we passed through from the East Coast in the middle of a cross-country road trip.

    But then Eliza found out, a few days before our rendezvous, that current policy requires all visitors to wear masks inside Mammoth Cave.

    An ideal policy, from my perspective. My family had taken a calculated risk in venturing out on our vacation in spite of the ongoing risks posed by Covid. But we were trying to be as careful as possible about it, hoping to avoid getting sick ourselves or sickening anyone in our path.

    Alas, masks are a no-go for Eliza on principle. Love of freedom runs strong in her blood; she does not bend easily to coercion. Was there somewhere else we could meet that didn’t require masks? she texted.

    I read her message late at night, just before going to bed. I put down my phone, turned out the light, and lay down on the pillow, awash in anger and exasperation. This is the hill you die on, Eliza?

    blue disposable mask hanging on a chain link fence

    Photograph by Tim Mossholder

    Maddening, this gap between us. Symbolic of many other gaps between her and me – on politics, on faith, and on all things touched by those two. Gaps that didn’t exist last time I saw her but that have become far more obvious these last two fraught years.

    It’s hard for me to justify bending to the consciences of people who object so strenuously to basic public health measures. Should I submit my moral scruples to hers? But my friendship with Eliza goes back almost twenty years, and it has run deep. I didn’t really want to throw it out and suffer yet another Covid loss.

    So I took a deep breath and agreed to an alternative meeting place. And a few days later, mid-November, our two families gathered. My husband and I and our three kids in our KN95 masks – because that is what our consciences speak – and she and her husband and their three kids with bare faces.

    I’d had a slightly sore throat and a headache the morning we met. I took a rapid Covid test just to be sure, but it was negative, and what I had felt so mild that I didn’t think much about it.

    But the next morning I still had a headache, and now a slightly elevated temp. So I took another rapid test, and this time there were two lines in the result window instead of one.

    Positive.

    I called from our hotel room over to Eliza’s room. I would have to isolate, I said; we’d have to cut the gathering short.

    She surely saw the irony in the fact that it was I, the vaccinated mask-wearer, rather than she, member of the resistance against both masks and vaccines, who had brought Covid to this place. But she said nothing about that.

    I didn’t really want to throw our friendship out and suffer yet another Covid loss.

    “What do you need?” she asked, “I’ll go to the grocery store for you, get some vitamins and whatever other supplies you’ll use over the next few days.”

    My family was twelve hundred miles from home, our travel plans upended. Dazed, and unsure at that moment exactly what to do next, I accepted the offer. Yes, I would appreciate a few things from the store.

    Eliza was in her car within ten minutes; she drove an hour round trip to stock up for me. She came back to our hotel bearing two full grocery bags – the items I’d asked for, plus a number of things that I hadn’t specified but that she suspected I might want. The tab had to have been close to a hundred dollars.

    I asked for the receipt, but she said no. It was a gift. This, after she’d already brought gifts for me and our kids the previous day.

    We each packed up and headed home, her family toward Georgia and mine toward Colorado. And I wrestled with my confused emotions all across Kansas: Still-simmering frustration over the gaps between us. Gratefulness that she dropped all to take care of me. Anger that our perspectives on so much have become so different. Humility, in the face of her generosity and kindness to me.

    A month has passed, and yesterday a different friend texted. She’s quarantining because she, too, has been exposed to Covid at close range. She likely has it by now. She’s immunocompromised and has already been sick with RSV and a sinus infection for weeks, and is now looking at another whammy. Whereas my run with Covid remained mild throughout, she’s a high-risk case.

    This friend, too, objects to masks on principle. No vaccines or social distancing for her. For a year and a half now, she’s been blasting Covid-related conspiracy theories on social media. We are each keenly aware of the divide between us.

    A part of me wanted to shrug and say, “lie in the bed you made.”

    Instead, I sighed and stared hard at my phone for two minutes. Then I tapped a reply. “What do you need? I’ll go to the store for you.”

    She gave me a list and I went, and then I grabbed one or two other things she hadn’t listed that I suspected she might want as well.

    I took the bags to her house. She asked for the receipt, but I said no, it’s a gift.

    I have a friend to pay back.

    Because I don’t know if America can heal from our current wounds, but if we can, my best guess is that it will happen one grocery run at a time.

    Contributed By Jamie Santa Cruz

    Jamie Santa Cruz is a writer, editor, and justice advocate. She lives with her husband and three children in Parker, Colorado.

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