Growing up, there were several, now classic, television shows that helped shape my values. Many of the westerns were perfect venues for taming what was wild and making it conform to the developing cultural norms. In particular, I remember watching the Lone Ranger and rooting for his wisdom and cunning to win out over the dastardly thieves, robbers or ill-doers of the day.

I would hope that Tonto could find help, or information that would assist at just the right time or in the right way. And I remember that the ranchers, townsfolk and farmhouse widows would all seem so relieved that their temporary setback situation had been made right again. Then, while watching the Lone Ranger ride off into the sunset, they would utter that classic question: “who was that masked man?”

In March 2020, when the word “pandemic” began to work its way into our vernacular on a daily basis, I thought closing things down and walking around everywhere wearing a mask was a bit of an overreaction. Just wash your hands and don’t sneeze on me. Now, I am shifting more to the cultural norm, and I am skeptical of those I see out in public without a mask.

All kinds of debates have ensued, even to the point of nausea, as to the merits and benefits of wearing or not wearing masks, along with the materials and types of masks that will be most effective. I see store employees with and without masks. I see lines, x-marks and signs helping people to keep their social distance.

I see some patrons wearing and wary, while others seem to disregard the health concerns altogether. I see news reports of people shouting and protesting against governmental confinement, in reaction to and frustration with an unknown and almost invisible enemy, as if the world leaders invented the virus.

I also see signs all around touting the “superheroes” who are working tirelessly to keep things running as smoothly and as safely as possible throughout this health crisis. And my thoughts drift back to those old TV shows. Batman had vast resources and new gadgets and inventions to battle his foes. And he wore a mask. Superman had great power and speed, and you’d never suspect he was Clark Kent: Superman doesn’t wear glasses! All our fictional superheroes worked for the common good and looked out for the well-being of all the citizens of their cities, indeed, even the entire world.

So, at a young age, I started to believe that good will always win. I understood that although tough times may come, being faithful, resourceful and right would triumph in the end. The Proverb made sense, “Lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways trust in him, and he will direct your path.”

However, I also heard over and over that “good guys finish last.” The cultural mantras echoed and reverberated from almost all fronts: “this is the real world; it doesn’t work that way; life isn’t fair; not everybody is like that; that’s a pie-in-the-sky, idealistic, utopian attitude.”

But, although fictional, the Lone Ranger did what he could. Batman used what was at his disposal. Superman looked to see where he could make things better, not simply exert his power over weak earthlings. Therefore, we are left with the real question of the day. Are we looking out for each other? Are we mindful of the concerns we have as a nation and as a world? Are we doing all the good we can? Are we allowing God to direct our path? Who is that masked man?

I am finding that I talk less when I wear a mask. Yet, I also am aware that I can see less of the expressions and catch less of the nuances in my conversations because we are communicating from behind masks. Perhaps it is time for us to look deeper. We need to look behind or beyond the masks. We need to see the people we interact with as fellow citizens of planet earth.

We need to look for the good, and resources, and power, and creativity, and skill that we can share and use to benefit all of us. Virus or no virus, and particularly as we begin to reengage together in society from here forward, maybe we should be thinking, praying and reflecting on who we really are — behind our masks.

Written by Rev. Kenn Barton, member of Circleville Good Shephers and Stoutsville Fairview UMC’s Pickaway County Ministerial Association.

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