I’m just going to say it. I hate the face masks we are wearing these days.

Before you click “send” on an angry email reply, let me explain. Yes, I understand they are useful tools in fighting the spread of COVID-19. I am required to wear one in my workplace, and I have no quarrel with that. My employer has been super cautious since the beginning of the pandemic, and the strategy seems to have been successful to this point.

While some critics rage about the changing protocols involving vaccines, boosters, and masks, I know scientists are aiming at a moving target. Dr. Anthony Fauci is a convenient villain for people who are tired of the pandemic, but after researching his life’s work and achievements, I would take his advice before following any self-proclaimed Facebook University expert.

But yes, I’m over the masks. If and when there’s a day when someone in authority can say, “Put your masks away, it’s safe to breathe again,” we should create a national holiday. Organize a parade on Main Street, and I’ll supply the confetti.

In the early days of the pandemic, I missed the smiles, the eye contact, and the nods of recognition when glancing at a familiar face. We went to school together, didn’t we? Didn’t I used to work with you? Our kids played on the same team, right? Such moments have been taken away, replaced by fearful eyes, staring straight ahead. Our body language says, “Don’t come near me. Just pretend I’m not here.”

We’re coming up on two years of masked life. I work with a young man in my TV studio. We’ve spent a couple of hours a day together for about a year. I have never seen his face. He tries to give me direction. I wear an earpiece that blasts the sounds of my newscast into my head, so I’ll know when to start talking, and when to stop. He tries to tell me about last-second changes. Often his eyes are big, as if he is saying something important. He will point toward an item on my desk, like the page of a script.

“Bloob gumm satchawhilliack shruggerum,” is what it sounds like. It’s not his fault. He could be telling me my shoes are on fire, for all I know. Lord, take that mask away.

I had another friend, an elderly gent in his 90s. He recently passed away. He was sharp as a tack. A snappy dresser, and a voracious reader who kept up with current events. But he was a wee bit vain.

I’m sure he was a ladies man in his day, and he always took pride in his appearance. That’s why he wouldn’t wear a hearing aid. He tried one of those “invisible miracle” gadgets for a while, and it was a dud.

Still, he was a heck of a lip reader. He got by on that skill for several years, until the pandemic. Everywhere he went, he encountered the mask. At the doctor’s office. At restaurants and supermarkets. And at church, people were talking, even shouting to him from behind their mask. It came out sounding like my TV studio friend, except even more frantic. “HI JOHN! APPA NISHE LEBBER YAR FERRING!” He had no idea they were trying to compliment him on the sweater he was wearing. Please, rid us of these masks.

I’ve never particularly enjoyed telephone conversations, especially with hurried people who answer as if they’ve just made a pit stop at Indy. Even pre-mask, it was often, “Herman’s Hardware, this is Melfergiddy speaking!” Now with that person muffled by a mask, I might as well be speaking to someone in Pakistan.

Like many of you, I was duped into thinking this whole ordeal would be over within a matter of weeks, or perhaps a few months.

Now, we’re starting to see evidence of stalled learning at school. Achievement scores, graduation rates, and ACT results are headed in the wrong direction.

As the pandemic drags on, what about the language comprehension and speech development for elementary students who are trying to decipher this masked-up world? What’s it like growing up in a world of faceless strangers? How must it be not being exposed to the smiles, laughter, and spontaneity that humanity once offered?

Certainly, those with vision and hearing impairments have long dealt with this and conquered obstacles most of us never faced. It can be done, and they have proven this many times over.

So for the lip readers, those who love chance encounters, and the lonely among us who need a kind word and a smile, please God: Bring us a cure, provide immunity, and allow us to shed the masks. Then let’s make a pact: Never take the little things for granted again.

David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Hello Chattanooga: Famous People Who Have Visited the Tennessee Valley.” You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or RadioTV2020@yahoo.com.

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