Pandemic has revealed that “We the people” has now become “I the person”

She sneezed. And then she sneezed again. Both sneezes were loud, long, and productive, as the medical practitioners say.

She didn’t sneeze into her arm, like those same practitioners suggest, nor did she sneeze into her blouse (also suggested), nor even into her own hand (not suggested but often done). Instead, she sneezed into one of our clean, starched and previously folded cloth napkins.

Several snorts and then a vigorous wiping.

Sometimes people in the restaurant equation forget where they are, and what they are doing. I guess that guy sitting in the corner booth picking his nose, with his glasses perched on his crown, figures that since he can’t see anyone, that they can’t see him either. Or maybe that woman flossing her teeth after her BBQ meal thinks that is perfectly acceptable. Why not? Applying body lotion and trimming one’s nails all get done, in public, and occasionally at bars, all across this country. Heck, even Rudy Giuliani was recently seen shaving while eating at an airport restaurant. I haven’t seen that yet, but I’m sure it is coming.

My personal sneezer was just about finished when another series of “productive” sneezes took place. The couple next to her had already decided – at first sneeze – that two seats farther away might be a good decision. I, on the other hand, had no such option. I thought about reaching up and adjusting my mask only to realize that subconsciously I was already doing that.

When this final series of sneezes were done, she wiped her nose again and then tossed the napkin on the bar.

I took one look at the wrinkled wet remnant of our once elegant starched cloth napkin and then looked up at her. I’m not sure my mask concealed my disgust.

“What?” she said looking around for moral support. “I don’t have Covid.” That potential moral support had already moved, leaving only me to point out the obvious.

“That’s not really the point,” I said, putting on rubber gloves to pick up her soiled napkin.

I didn’t add the “that’s just disgusting” part because I have learned that without the authority to do something about something, nobody listens. Not the kid at the crosswalk, not the mother at the park, nor the man walking his dog. Defiance is most strong in those who know they are committing a wrong. Especially when that wrong is obvious, and often posted.

But that is the society we live in nowadays. “We the people” has been replaced by “I the person.” What “I” want to do is paramount, no matter whether it is unsafe, illegal, immoral, or just plain disgusting. So much for “united we stand and divided we fall.”

Just try asking someone to mind the line these days and see what happens. People talk about their rights all the time but nobody mentions their responsibilities. Things have broken down so much that “It isn’t illegal” has become a moral defense. Just because something isn’t illegal doesn’t mean that it is right, or moral, or good. And these days even obviously illegal can be obscured by procedure, politics, or technicality.

This pandemic has exposed an ugly side to our society, a side that is only concerned with themselves and not with what is good for society at large. Amazing how “essential workers” were only essential when they were absolutely needed. And how as soon as many people got vaccinated, they were screaming for everything to open even though everyone hadn’t been. And how those same people then stopped getting tested, because hey, THEY were vaccinated. Look at the ongoing mask debates. How wrong does someone have to be before they admit they were wrong?

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said that “no one is free until we are all free.” I might add that no one is safe until we are all safe.

An hour after sneezy left another man bellied up to the bar. He was bundled up in a scarf and a stocking cap, even though it was 80 degrees outside. One thing he wasn’t wearing was a mask. He had taken it off immediately upon sitting down.

“May I help you? I asked, keeping some distance.

“Do you have any soup?” he asked.

“I have a terrible cold,” he added before coughing into his hand. A hand that then picked up one of our water glasses.

“Don’t worry, I don’t have Covid,” he said.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-Says who? One must ask. Because if it’s just you, I’m not sure I trust you.

-Even if you don’t have Covid, if you are sick in public, maybe wearing a mask is still a good idea. Just saying.

-Being illegal shouldn’t be the only deterrent to behavior or action, if it is, we are all in big trouble.

-Wearing an “I’m vaccinated” sticker doesn’t mean you should now stop washing your hands.

-“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” remember that? No? Don’t worry it doesn’t seem like anybody else does either.