lenten journal: who was that masked man?


One of the reasons I know that I am in the “high risk” age group is I am old enough to remember The Lone Ranger television show. Each week, he and Tonto saved somebody from something dangerous and then they would ride off into the sunset leaving someone to ask, “Who was that masked man?”

The other would reply, “I don’t know, but I wanted to thank him.”

Virus or no virus, I am the grocery shopper in our family, mostly because I am the cook. When I was growing up, my mother played the same roles. From time to time, she would need something from the store and be too busy to go and my father would volunteer. She would tell him to get two onions and some olive oil and he would come back with cookies and Fritos. When they would visit Ginger and me, my dad would take Ginger to the grocery store and they would come back as though they had been to an amusement park with a bag filled with their discoveries.

As I said, I am the grocery shopper in our family.

One of the most difficult and frightening things about Covid-19 is that we can be carriers without showing any symptoms. Though I will admit that the primary motivation behind my physical distancing is I don’t want to get sick, it matters that I learn to shift my thinking to realize I need to communicate that I am working hard not to be a contributor to the spread of the virus. I don’t imagine anyone I saw in the store this afternoon went in thinking they were contagious, but what the hell. They looked at me the same way I looked at them: we both saw each other as the threat. The recent call from the CDC that we wear masks when we go out adds a new wrinkle to life.

Since no one in our house knows anything about sewing, we are not going to make our own. A church member who is talented in those ways was kind enough to bring us three cloth masks, and another brought by some of the manufactured ones in an envelope carrying the inscription:

may the wind, the rain, the waves, and the roar of silence share their strength with you.

I felt goofy getting out of the car like I was an extra on M*A*S*H. In putting on the mask, I learned, once again, that hearing aids complicate everything, but I got the straps settled in and I went into the store. As I said, I quickly saw I was not the only one. The Fresh Market here in Guilford has done a good job taping arrows to the floor to make the aisles one-way streets to limit contact and marking off six-feet intervals at the butchery and bakery counters. I found the things I needed, with the exception of pinto beans, which are an item to hoard, evidently, paid for my groceries, and came home.

I know. Good story, bro.

Our words and actions all work on a metaphorical level alongside of our intention. We have heard so much about physical distancing that when someone steps off the sidewalk to create space between us I find myself saying, “Thank you,” because the distance has become a metaphor of solidarity and care. When the Lone Ranger wore his mask, the point was to hide his identity. It was some kind of chivalry for him to help people and not let them know who he was, and then he rode off as a hero without attachments.

Before Corona, I was an everyday grocery shopper. I like to buy fresh stuff. I like going to the store. The people at the Fresh Market and Bishop’s Orchards know me because I’m in there a lot. Several of the Fresh Market people make a point to learn the names of regulars, so some of them really do know who I am. One woman thinks my name is Marvin and greets me so enthusiastically that I don’t have the heart to correct her, so I just smile and return the greeting.

Part of what I have to get over with the mask is that it hides my face. People can’t see me smile. It makes me less visible. it is separating. It’s uncomfortable. And it is protection. It, too, is a metaphor of solidarity. To wear the mask is to say I am doing my best to not be a threat. And it gives me the chance to ask the person at the checkout, “Who was that masked man?”

I hope–just once–that one of them will answer, “I don’t know, but I wanted to thank him.”


  1. I love this! I’m spending the day tomorrow making masks – I honed my sewing skills in the Monastery! People will be able to tell when you smile – it shows in your eyes!

  2. You should also be old enough then to remember the old Bill Crosby routine where rather than go himself the Lone Ranger would send Tonto in to town looking for the bad guys. Needless to say Tonto would get the stuffing beat out of him. In keeping with the theme you should have people call you Kemosabe and when leaving the stores yell “ HI HO SILVER AWAY”

  3. What a beautifully written post. I too love to share my smiles. With a mask, right now you can’t even share your smiles with your eyes. There are too many who have distrust in their eyes, rightly so. I pray after all this has passed we will be able to get back to normal.

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