By Jenna Ebener
My love for nature traces back generations. Both sets of my grandparents took their children to Colorado each year to experience the wonder of the mountains. In fact, my two grandpas hunted in Colorado together! My family has passed on the love of the outdoors to me. I have spent countless hours in the woods with my dad and have marveled at the beauty of snow with my grandma. A large reason for my move to Colorado over five years ago is a ripple effect of the appreciation my family has shown for God’s beauty in nature.
Ripple effects can take many forms. Many factors influence the choices we make each day including our upbringing, our values and beliefs, and the people with whom we surround ourselves. These factors even create ripples in our mood. I find myself upset by what one person said one moment and then praise God the next after hearing an uplifting song. Sights, sounds, touches, tastes and smells can instantly bring on memories or thoughts that can shape the direction of our day. Now, more than ever, I feel like we are in a turbulent world where we are constantly being affected by the things around us.
Unfortunately, one of the first things I notice about people now is whether they are wearing a mask. Their decision can shift my mood in either direction. I have been working on letting go of fear and instead going back to recognizing God in each person I see. If others influence us, then surely we influence others!
We do not know the stories of strangers we come across on a day-to-day basis. Some things are more apparent than others. It is clear when someone is very young or elderly or has a physical disability. It is not so clear that someone is struggling with mental illness, such as OCD or PTSD, or has another not so visible condition, such as asthma or diabetes. We do not know that the woman sitting across from us on the bus is going home to take care of her child, who is medically fragile. We do not know that the man sitting to our left is a certified nursing assistant (CNA) heading to a shift at the nursing home. We do not know that the person to our right has COVID-19.
I do not say this to strike fear. I make this statement to foster compassion. Now more than ever, we do not know how far the ripple effect of our actions will spread, for better or for worse. We do know that wearing a mask is a simple way to show people that we care what happens to them.
In the beginning of the pandemic, evidence about mask wearing varied. Now medical experts confirm that masks help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Some people still have doubts. Does wearing a mask really work?
The odds seem minimal that I will cause the person next to me to get sick and die. Yet, the simple act of wearing a mask has the potential to save lives. If you are medically able to do so, isn’t it worth wearing a mask not because you are told you have to but because you may save someone’s life?
Isn’t it a way of showing solidarity with those around us? Every time I put on a mask or see someone wearing one, I see “I care what happens to you” in that simple action and it gives me hope. For I love each and every one of you as a child of God, and I care what happens to you. The vulnerable are at risk, and they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
(Jenna Ebener, who has a Master of Social Work from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with medical needs.)