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Opinion: I choose not to see the faces of anti-maskers; here's who I see instead

Robert Riney

I recently stopped at a small gas station convenience store and encountered a fellow shopper who was not wearing a mask. It certainly wasn’t the first time this has happened, and while disappointed, I focused on making my purchase and going on my way.

But the man was not content in merely putting himself and others at risk by not masking up. He wanted to poke fun. “Mask fools are everywhere,” he said. As insults go, his was a pretty lightweight one. I shot him a look and left the store.

By the time I got to my car, I couldn’t describe what he looked like. I chose not to see his face because at this moment, it was not a face worth seeing. I made a different choice for my mind’s weary eye.

Find it within yourself to mask up and solve this problem together, Riney writes.

I chose to see the pain and sadness etched in the face of my 43-year-old friend during my final video call with him before he passed away from COVID-19.

I chose to see the tired yet resilient faces of the physicians, nurses, environmental services and therapy staff at my workplace, the Henry Ford Health System, as they once again battle dramatically rising numbers of COVID patients with incredible grace, skill, and compassion.

I imagined the face, with tears flowing, of a dear friend of mine who just told me her entire family is COVID-positive, and that her mother is hospitalized in serious condition.

I also chose to see the sad, worried yet determined faces of small business owners everywhere, including my own daughter, who are all doing everything right to create safe environments and keep the economy going. All of them working so hard while witnessing selfish and reckless people behave in a way that is stomping on their dreams.

These are the faces worth seeing and remembering, not his.

I do not know all the reasons that brought us to this place in history, where alignment around simple things like mask-wearing in enclosed public spaces during a record-breaking pandemic is even a subject of debate. Understanding how we reached this point will be important in the future but will not help us with the immediate and very sobering challenges we face today.

I implore everyone, on behalf of the faces that I chose to see, and the millions of other faces with similar stories, to find it within yourself to mask up and solve this problem together. If you have been an anti-masker, allow yourself to have a change of heart. You will find that doing so is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Let’s choose to see the faces of our cherished loved ones that we have lost as well as our health care and business heroes who are working tirelessly to serve and protect us and honor them as we mask up.

Let’s applaud each other in this effort and unite in celebration when we emerge victorious. Let our faces — the faces of problem solvers and collaborators — be the faces future generations see when they study this moment in history.

Robert Riney is president of health operations and chief operating officer of Henry Ford Health System.