Kerry Alys Robinson

Masks and mercy

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

On what was a particularly difficult day, laden with disappointment and marked by exhaustion from the cumulative weight of bearing sorrow on behalf of friends, relatives and colleagues experiencing myriad grief, illness, job loss, restlessness and anxiety, the mail arrived. Thank you, U.S. Postal Service!

Our mail carrier had brought us a small package, hand addressed to me by a friend many states away. The joy of its arrival was enhanced by the fact that it was totally unexpected and any sign of human connection in the age of the pandemic is a reason to be glad.

I have thought a lot over these five months about the importance of simple joys, acts of human kindness, the discipline of gratitude, occasions for celebration and reasons for hope.

I know of no one in the entire world unaffected by the global pandemic. I have lost friends and neighbors to COVID-19. I have consoled those who mourn, and while practicing physical distance is painfully awkward and frustrating on such occasions, genuine empathy knows no bounds. I have encouraged those newly unemployed or underemployed and reminded my colleagues to be gentle with themselves and their families.

Those fortunate to have employment and the luxury of remaining safely at home know that Zoom fatigue is real. I hold a growing number of people, intentions and consolations in my daily prayer. My priest friends tell me the most difficult part of the pandemic for them is the restriction inhibiting sacramental and pastoral ministry, anointing the sick, consoling the brokenhearted, burying the dead.

We are in a collective mourning, a collective chronic state of physical and mental exhaustion, a permanent state of low-grade depression, exacerbated by political and theological divisions. Sorrow and anxiety, disappointment, our own or on behalf of those we love, is always nearby. The academic year is just beginning. Procedures and protocols for safety vary wildly, and the only certainty is that rules are subject to revision at a moment’s notice.

My beautiful friend, Mary Ann Wasil, died young of breast cancer years before the pandemic, but not before living a remarkably full and joyful life fiercely promoting justice and mercy, and exuding faith and hope. She taught me early in our friendship how important celebration is, no matter what is happening in the world or in our lives. She lived by the conviction that we must, “celebrate what is right in order to find the strength to fix what is wrong.”

Zoom fatigue is real, but so is the moment of joy when the beautiful face of the person we love is suddenly in view. Disappointment and loss are near constants, but so are daily acts of compassion and encouragement and solidarity. Blessings are everywhere, perhaps now appreciated with greater conscientiousness against the backdrop of so much loss and deprivation.

I opened the package to reveal a bright pink handmade mask with daisies, the symbol of the breast health advocacy nonprofit Mary Ann founded when she learned of her diagnosis. In the middle is the single word “HOPE,” a reminder of another maxim she taught me: Hope lives. The gift is from a mutual friend of Mary Ann’s, and I cherish it.

Symbols are integral to the Catholic imagination. The mask is the symbol both of the pandemic and our commitment to the common good, to love and care for others. This mask, a beautiful gift, has lifted my spirits, reminded me to celebrate, to be grateful, to be surprised by joy and beauty and friendship. It is above all a symbol of mercy.


  • covid-19