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It’s good to see your face

| Friday, March 25, 2022

The last time I sat in a classroom without a mask it was the year 2020. It was March, and I was a senior in high school. My AP Psych class had just ended, and it was officially spring break. I walked to my car among the other overly excited seniors who were headed home to leave on vacation. I, on the other hand, was headed to my after-school job at Barnes and Noble.

I walked through the double doors, that had been propped open to let the warm spring breeze blow through the store. After clocking in at the employee computer, I walked through the maze of bookshelves in a predetermined route, specifically designed to avoid my managers and to get to my locker in the break room.

After locking up my backpack and keys in my locker, I made my way to the children’s department, which was my typical section. I walked into the empty department and picked up a copy of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” off one of the shelves near the entrance.

Making my way towards the back wall I found my usual corner and sat down to read. I had only been reading for about 20 minutes when the first child came up to me and asked for my help to find a book. The day continued in that pattern over and over again. It was just another average day.

The next day was anything but average. I was supposed to return to work for my next shift at 10 a.m., but at 8:30 a.m. I got a call from my managers that the store would be closed for the next couple of days “while the world figures out what this COVID thing was.” That couple of days turned into a couple of months and that “spring break” turned into an undefined period of virtual classes. Which culminated in Prom cancelations and Zoom graduation.

The last time I had seen a stranger’s face without a mask and within 6 feet of me was that day back in March. On that day, none of us thought that the world would have changed so much in what seemed like a single night. So many people believed that COVID-19 wouldn’t affect them or touch their lives in any way. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

COVID-19 disrupted the world’s timeline. We all turned another year older but where somehow stuck in the same place. Aging physically but not mentally. For so many, COVID-19 was a much need break in their hectic life, until it wasn’t. For others, many of whom were or are currently in high school or college, it was a breakdown in the system. All the events of high school and college were canceled: senior nights, dances, award ceremonies, big games, fall plays, spring musicals and class trips.

In 2021 the world began to restart, like at the beginning of a carousel, we started spinning again ever so slowly, not back to our peak speed but slowly climbing. The world had just pushed the start button, and we were still warming up. Many people were still scared, and with every new variant, the world became more and more apprehensive to the possibility that we would ever see our old reality again.

Now in March of 2022, almost exactly two years from that day back in 2020, Saint Mary’s College and the University of Notre Dame have announced that masks are now optional in most if not all classes, at the professor’s discretion.

After two years of masks and social distancing, I was able to enter a lecture hall mask-less. It was the first time I’ve entered a college class with nothing to cover the nervous smile that was plastered on my face. Finally getting to meet the other students in my International Politics classes.

It was like meeting an old friend again. I knew these people; in their souls, I knew them. I had taken multiple classes with them in my college career. I knew them personally and academically. I knew their opinions on politics. I knew what was going on in their lives. I knew what they were fighting about with their parents or that they didn’t like living by themselves in a single. I knew them in every way a student should know a fellow student. But I had never seen them. I had never seen the whole person behind the mask.

You can only tell so much from a person’s eyes. To fully understand someone, you need to see their whole face, you need to be able to read the emotions that play on their face. To see the contagious smile that comes from pure joy or the pensive face contortion that comes from deep concentration.

Needless to say, it’s good to see your face, and I hope I continue to.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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