Let’s begin with a story.
Once a man who could not see lost his walking stick and could not find his way to the home he shared with his mother. He called for help, but no one seemed to hear, and he stumbled along a rugged path.
Then he heard someone call out to him, “Hello, you, perhaps I can help you.” The man walked in the direction of that voice, and tripped over something, no, someone, another man, who dragged himself on the same rugged road, for he had no legs and sought a place of shelter.
The two of them rested a while, and talked. Now acquainted, they realized they both faced great difficulties. They also knew they could help one another.
The man who could not see carefully took upon his shoulders the man who could not walk. He became legs for his new friend and this new friend became his eyes. They soon found an easier trail. Both men made the journey safely to the mother’s home. She joyfully greeted them both as her sons.
And all their lives were easier for this. ———-
This is an incredibly old fable, sometimes attributed to Aesop the storyteller, but its motif is found in stories in Europe, Asia, and North America. Valuable old stories travel far.
Recently, I walked across an almost empty parking lot, and passed a few masked people. Being who I am, I tried, at a safe distance, to make eye contact. Behind my own mask, I smiled and said, “Hi.”
No one spoke or looked directly at me. Shoulders hunched, eyes to the ground, brows furrowed, strangers remained strangers. I thought, are masks distancing us even more than we already must be, or is it the fearful, lonely frustration behind them?
Masks can help us stay physically healthy in these pandemic times, but they can’t protect us against our fears. They may help preserve our physical wellbeing, but they won’t lift our spirits, or bring us joy.
We must communicate hope and empathy, and let our hearts shine. No matter how much masks obscure, they don’t hide our eyes, our body language, or our voices, tools that have always been important to sharing our stories. Now, they’re even more important to sharing our humanity, showing others that we’re safe havens for one another, even when we must remain separated.
To be whole, to make the journey easier, to find shelter, the two men in my folktale adaptation needed one another. Together, they found possibility and hope. One couldn’t see, but heard the voice of his new brother. One couldn’t walk, but recognized the strength of another. Both were willing to ask for and receive help. If either had ignored the other, where might each have ended his journey? And what might have happened to that mother, who was alone?
Our present situation may not be a “happily ever after” narrative. Real life isn’t. But we can live this story together, and communicate.
We can be there for one another, even behind the masks we wear.