Running the gauntlet: To run the gauntlet is to take part in a form of corporal punishment in which the party judged guilty is forced to run between two rows of soldiers, who strike out and attack him.
While visiting a nearby medical center for a followup appointment on an issue unrelated to the Coronavirus pandemic, I noticed a particular sensitivity to social distancing among the people walking through the parking lot and inside the building. At the entrance, there was a thermography device in the hallway to detect fever. Everyone wore masks, of course.
On the way back out, a longtime friend and fellow cross country runner from way back smiled behind his mask and said, “Hi Chris.” We nodded and kept on our way. No handshakes. No hugs.
In many respects it feels like an invisible gauntlet that we run each day during this pandemic. The goal is to move about without risking infection for yourself or anyone else. People who care enough to respect those concerns wear masks because they work. Yesterday a submitted story posted on our local digital newsletter Kane County Connects outlined the reasons why it makes sense to wear masks while out in public.
The Pandemic Gauntlet is real in the sense that our social order is disrupted, and it feels like a punishment of sorts. But for what? Some people view wearing a mask as a form of unjust punishment and even view it as a hoax being perpetrated on them. I encountered one such individual sporting a Trump 2020 hat with his little daughter in tow. He stood behind me at a convenience store, breathing heavily. Here was a man so determined to express his distaste for civil considerations that he preferred to flaunt his risky behavior as a sign of personal freedom. That is the real gauntlet of Covid-19. And it is all around us.
It is tough to figure out where our responsibilities during this pandemic begin and end. The credit card processor seems like the worst place to contract the disease by touch. We also know that the virus is typically transmitted in airborne fashion. This is the gauntlet of casual consequences. Sometimes the information changes.
As a result, many people I know are avoiding social contact of any kind. They stay home rather than go out.
Our strategy is to choose our interactions wisely. That doesn’t mean we haven’t taken any risks. Three times this year we’ve participated in triathlon events where we could find them. We masked up, washed our hands, engaged in social distancing and competed. Our reasoning is that people doing triathlons are already in decent health or they wouldn’t be there. Even asymptomatic triathletes wore masks. The worst risk during all of that was standing in line just before the swim. People kept their distance for the most part. We emerged unscathed.
I still respect the concerns of people more conservative than us about social distancing, self-protection and protecting others. I wince when spotting an obviously fragile patron at the store struggling with an ill-fitting mask. During the early days of the pandemic, stores offered specific senior shopping hours. We would be wise as a society to go back to that. Make the Pandemic Gauntlet easier for those in need to navigate.
That’s not a selfish statement. Technically I’m a “senior” according to a varying set of definitions. Is a senior 55 years of age? 65? I try not to embrace or engage in ageism of any kind. Instead I’ve always tried to take care of my health at every age. None of us is perfect at that. I’ve made mistakes over the years. But through basic caution I’ve also saved my ass when it comes to the long series of odd incidents that for me consisted of infections from slivers, a cat bite and a bad tooth. The doctors told me I could have lost limbs or died from any of those three afflictions. All that I eventually “lost” was a tooth. What I gained was a health respect for the dangers of infections.
I’ve also experienced a lifetime of sports injuries, including torn ACLs, viciously sprained ankles, wrists and fingers from playing soccer, baseball, football, basketball, tennis and a host of other sports. I was a steeplechaser in college, one of the most dangerous of all track races. And since 2003, I’ve been involved in enough bike accidents to write a book. Add in the overtraining and heat exhaustion, close calls with nearly frostbitten fingers and toes, and nearly getting hit by vehicles while running and ride, and life is a set of close calls that could have gone either way.
Let’s face it: Athletes are risk-takers. We all have to learn our limits and make choices to protect ourselves and others. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
My own daughter once chastised me for a risky bike ride on a 95-degree day. I arrived home sick from the heat and dehydrated. Salt coated my sun-soaked face. “Why do you do this shit?” she asked me.
That’s a good question. The answer is not simple. Part of me has always seen taking part in athletics as an expression of freedom, even a defiance against society. That means a part of me empathizes with all those people out there bristling at the idea of being told to wear masks. They don’t want to run the gauntlet of pandemic precautions every day because it feels like an affront to their spirit and freedoms.
The sad truth is that they’re taking stupid and unnecessary risks with their own health, and the health of others. That leads to other questions: Do they care? Is there an obligation to care about others? Or is society just a “take what you can get” proposition?
As stated, I’ve taken my share of risks. Some people might deem those unnecessary. Competing in sports is an extravagant and often selfish pursuit. It also builds relationships, a sense of teamwork and community, and provides a diversified sense of self-worth that comes from overcoming self-inflicted pain and difficulties. Through those exploits we learn perseverance, develop empathy for the effort of others, and not to whine some much when things get tough. The risks, from that perspective, are actually the rewards.
There are days when I get sick of having to drag masks around all the time. We’re all fatigued at the notion of having to pull them over our faces. That said, I willingly participate in social protections because it makes sense just as wearing a bike helmet while cycling protects your head from injury, pulling on reflective gear to run at night creates better visibility, or swimming with goggles over my eyes keeps out chlorine and water-borne infections. These are all the “masks” we wear to do things we enjoy. Just another layer of life.
I also wear seat belts while driving and wash my hands after going to the bathroom both in public and private places. These actions are all part of being a wise and decent human being.
So if the pandemic feels like you’re running through a punishing gauntlet, that is a perception borne not of reality, but the product of a self-absorbed and shallow ideology. That’s the real plague on humanity right now.