In limbo, do no harm

Posted 6/2/21

Limbo refers to an uncertain period of waiting for a decision or resolution. Some religious traditions speculate about the limbo status of the soul in the afterlife.

My co-columnist today, Paul …

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In limbo, do no harm

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Limbo refers to an uncertain period of waiting for a decision or resolution. Some religious traditions speculate about the limbo status of the soul in the afterlife.

My co-columnist today, Paul Isom, says he learned about limbo not from church but from the 1968 Walt Disney movie “Blackbeard’s Ghost,” in which Dean Jones conjures up Peter Ustinov (Blackbeard) who has been “bound in limbo” by a curse. Blackbeard can only move on to the next place once he has performed a good deed.

Similarly, we want to know, what in the world are we to do with our masks? (How do we move on to the next phase? Hasn’t wearing a mask for the past year been enough?)

We met for coffee the other day. We are both fully vaccinated. We wore masks to the sidewalk table, then removed them once we sat down. This is standard protocol and procedure now, but we still made sure we were both comfortable with masklessness. Simple meeting and greeting has its awkward moments these days.

Watching pedestrians, there was not a consistent use of masks. Some wore theirs over their noses and mouths, others as chinstraps. Still others wore no masks. Some wore their masks inside and outside the coffee shop. Others just inside. Of course, no one pins their vaccination card to the front of his or her shirt, so it’s hard to know everyone’s reasoning.

But why is there such discrepancy regarding masks worn by vaccinated people?

The term “performative” feels too judgmental. A mask-wearer could have cancer or an autoimmune disorder. That person could have unvaccinated children at home. They could act out of a desire to protect themselves or their loved ones.

Yet, we wonder if some behavior is based more upon feeling than science.

We discussed a recent interview with the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, that aired on NPR. After deciding to keep a mask mandate in place, citizens argued “You’ve said listen to the CDC for the last 14 months; you should listen to the CDC” now. The mayor agreed to drop the mask mandate and instead focus on convincing the vaccine-hesitant to get the shot.

Again, we recognize that some vaccinated people need to take extra precautions to protect their health and the wellbeing of loved ones. We also believe that wearing a mask is an emotionally charged issue. Wanting to follow the science and respect our neighbors, we wish to call readers attention to an ethical guide found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism: ahimsa.

Literally, ahimsa means “do no harm.” The premise is that all living beings have a spark of divine spiritual energy. Ahimsa is an affirmation that, as poet William Blake claimed, “Everything that lives is holy.”

There is little evidence to suggest statistical probability that any variant of COVID-19 can break through the vaccine or that a vaccinated person might pass along the virus and infect someone who is unvaccinated.

However, humans being human, we judge risk differently. Wearing or removing one’s mask often involves complicated, contradicting feelings. In the spirit of ahimsa, we will keep our masks with us and willingly don them if it puts someone else at ease.

In this limbo time of uncertain resolution of the pandemic, we know one thing: we want to be respectful and kind to all.

Paul Isom lives in Chapel Hill and teaches journalism at N.C. State. Andrew Taylor-Troutman is pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church.


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