Commentary: I'll admit it; I had been holding out on wearing a mask in one situation — walking around my neighborhood early in the morning. Two things made me change: knowing the story of someone I encountered and a droll analysis of my generation by the one coming up behind me.
A few weeks back, my family debated getting another dog, a playmate for our pup that is staring down mortality with wisps of gray lining the brown fur around her face. She is generally a relaxed dog, if hyper vigilant, and only sometimes boisterous. The only major transgressions have been things such as enthusiastically jumping up and knocking down — and almost killing — a sapling. Or, more worrisome, the time she snapped at a visitor who decided to stick their hand through the fence that sectioned off part of the yard where the dog was being kept. Really, the latter is my fault. I broke the social contract with the dog. She's not incredibly well socialized.
I had dreamed of being one of the people who goes on walks with their dog at the local farmer's market, where judgment of unruly offspring falls harder on the fur children than the human children. Yet, when we got her, I had a toddler and a full-time job, and had just bought a fixer-upper. While she got the basic dog training class at a big-box store, the time for me to just sit conspicuously at coffee shops with any old, dusty poetry books, well, that element was missing.
So, similar to the debate of having a second kid to give our first a life companion, we have debated the idea of a sibling for the dog. A potential match ran up to us on a walk through our neighborhood a few weeks back. The initial snuffles were good, but the dog ran back to two women who had been sitting with it. When I found out through online sources who was fostering the dog in our neighborhood, we went to have a meet-and-greet.
It went poorly with the dogs. However, I met one of the ladies, who had sat with the dog and who I regularly see out when walking. We all wore masks at the meeting, and she explained how she has a latent sickness that makes her frailer and unable to give long-term care to the stray.
Then, earlier this week, I saw her again, masked and walking slowly with a masked friend. My mom and I had been moving to the other side of the street when saw oncoming walkers but had not brought masks. In the moment, I felt bad, and responsible: I knew that she was trying her best to protect herself and I had failed my social contract to her.
This morning's walk was the first on which we brought masks, and we ended up coming up behind her again. I prompted my mom, and we pulled out our masks and put them on. As we passed them, she gave us a full-arm wave.
As I was stewing about my literal unmasked behavior this week, I thought about what other intrinsic behaviors may have been unmasked. I had felt a sense of entitlement to still walk freely around our neighborhood, and was even cavalier in the ways I judged others for being throughout the pandemic. It didn't feel great. Then I read an offhand remark by a Gen Zer on the topic of millennials: "They were raised by Boomers — and it shows."
Conversations and speculations about millennials early on leaned toward the markers of our supposed entitlement — that we feel entitled to jobs, to security, to a comfortable future that we think exists and should be ours.
But now I wonder who exactly crafted that narrative and how that sense of entitlement was probably already with us before millennials were marked with it. The wearing or not of masks has really unmasked us all. While we millennials can't help but have our behavior created by the modeling of our parents, for better and for worse, we can be aware of it and remember that there are social contracts we are not only entitled to inherit but also have a responsibility to preserve and keep safe.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at email@example.com. To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.