We don’t need this civil mask war. But here is why we will fight it until we don’t have to.

Tommy Hazleton
15 min readMay 21, 2020

I never had a problem with Darwinism until it became a weapon. I don’t want to accept that Darwinism is contagious. Darwinism being that theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest. Hereditary, yes. Contagious, no. But perhaps I’m being too broad, so maybe what I really mean is that seemingly very contagious bug of ignorance or its bastard cousin stupidity. Whatever I want to call it, I’m not a fan. And I’m not alone.

Full disclosure: this is about the mask war. That already tired back and forth civil war that’s playing out all around the country. This, the Divided States of America. This, a nation in crisis, heeled by Corona, gasping for breath, unable to agree on the easiest and simplest tool we will ever have against this weapon of mass destruction that kills indiscriminately among those who wear the mask proudly and those who shun it for everything that it isn’t.

As I look about now I can’t help but feel that that the Coronavirus has enabled a new weapon against us all. One that in the hands of a bloated and foolish ego or an uneducated and misguided patriot has quickly evoloved to feel like a weapon that can easily and indirectly be zeroed in on my family and my friends. No matter how careful I am, I can’t protect those I love from those who don’t see the value in being careful. In doing everything we possibly can to play our best defense against this our common enemy. The real enemy, which isn’t each other.

With this realiziation I saw Darwinism as the weapon it had become. There will be consequences no matter how cautious the rest of us are as long as the foolish dance in the streets and grocery stores to the song of devil may care.

I have already spent a lot of time looking with shame through my fogged glasses at the maskless. I watched social media flare up with the first few cannon shots of the war. I eventually realized it wasn’t about me. Not at all, although I will say right here and now I have no plans to get this damn disease. But that wasn’t it.

I had started to feel like the mask-less, by their carelessness, might be painting a bullseye on my close family. Which would explain why I wanted to weigh in with some passion and some reason. You mess with me, that’s on me. My family, that’s on you. And more easily than the target of my own family I began to see the crosshairs of irresponsibility being drawn up on the essential workers, doctors, nurses, first responders; all those other people that I cared about. Worried about. People I wanted to support in any way and every way possible.

And perhaps my biggest fear, that it might be pointed at my 80 year old mother as she runs to the nursery after not going anywhere for 9 weeks, the hope that someone else will pick out some good plants as she waits, holding her breath, wearing her mask. Wise.

And up until last night that perceived weapon was pointed squarely at my brother-in-law James whom I said goodbye to as he lie in a coma. An Army Veteran, not even 50 years old, father of two, having just witnessed other goodbyes from his closest family as he made his final slow walk towards the light. I hope he could hear my heartfelt goodbye as he fled not only the Coronavirus but a far more evil foe: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. This just a shade over 2 years since his eventual ALS diagnosis, he would soon be finally free of the devil of all diseases during this awful time of pandemic.

So it’s no small suggestion that Covid-19 hastened his progression. And he did not have the disease. It didn’t matter that he didn’t. It took away all he had left. Taking his family out to dinner. Going to the movies with his children. Taking a trip somewhere, anywhere. Gone.

If there would have been any shot of any return to normal for him or anyone else with “underlying health conditions,” it would have required a united front from all of us. From Team America. But tough to play the full game if half the team doesn’t show up. Which it became clear a bunch of no-shows would define the status quo.

I said goodbye to him as I sat with watery eyes from the comfort of our couch 130 miles away through the now sacred intimacy that was a live video message on a cell phone. My two sons were also initiated into this club of saying goodbye to their uncle along side me. At just 11 and 14, they were now a part of this club that I had avoided for 46 years. Saying goodbye, digitally. All the rage.

We shared this experience through high speed internet as his own wife somehow was comforting us, in that way that only happens when someone dies, when the one who needs the most comfort offers everyone else that comfort in some cycle that is as unexplainable as it is undeniable.

Meanwhile, overlooking a lone shaded window at a hospice center, my own wife (his little sister), and her mother and her older sister had joined another amazing friend where they all tailgated in the hospice parking lot near Houston, drinking wine, listening to AC/DC, somehow finding some balance between connection and loss as they waited for his suffering to end and his spirit to be set free.

The legend is he waited until the song “Jailbreak” by AC/DC, his favorite band, was playing as he made his escape into the light at around 11:30 that night.

“All in the name of liberty
All in the name of liberty
Got to be free.”

Fortunately these caring ladies had gotten a moment to say goodbye earlier in person, the hopsice team doing what they do and making exceptions, breaking the rules, so they could all have a moment of face to face real life. Sans the digital. His eyes were closed of course, so he never saw the masks everyone wore.

I had spent the days and hours before my own goodbye escaping down the social media tunnel as it were, doused in the kerosene of bad news. Rather than feeling helpless, I decided to take on a cause, distraction being a great distraction. The timing was right as the first boiling point of the mask war had gone well beyond a simmer and I was ready to weigh in with my own knowledge of common-sensedom. This was, after all, a no-brainer.

Unfortunately for me I’m the kind of guy that just isn’t going to stand by and not raise some hell about this, that being what is most mysterious, and dreadful, and anti-social, this refusal to wear a mask without a single decent principal to justify it. Nonetheless, like so many other mysterious and undefinable things in this the present day, the escalating civil war over wearing a mask was playing out in front of my eyes in real time and it seemed like a good place to make a difference in the world. Yeah, right.

I have since looked away, other than the Costco guy, whom I support. I didn’t even have to watch the video. But after I said that heavy and still resonant goodbye I had to remove myself from this ignorance driven war of safety vs. sanity. As the imaginary human rights dilemna that’s razing the aisles of grocery stores everywhere played out I had to step away. I had already had enough of, “Welcome back to the economy, now let’s fight about how we are going to ensure that we fail.”

And this drives me crazy. It drives you crazy. And I’m sure it drives them crazy. But where this war lacks guns and ammo and blood and gore we’ve got text and social and a type of blue ribbon, first place ignorance that feeds on irony as if it were fertilizer. It grows and grows and grows. There are no constrictive sides to it. There is no bottom. Not even the rock bottom foundation that is Covid-19. We can’t agree on anything.

We now know, there is an “I” in WIN. But there is no “US” in WIN — and that stretches even further; there is no “US” in The United States any longer. We can’t even band together over common sense that predicates mutual benefit that’s born of 21st century science. We have become the Nited Tates, a zombie of what we were, what we are about, and we have lost touch with what it means to band together to fight the enemy. Instead, wanting to fight, we fight each other.

And that bothers me so. And I’m that guy that’s gotta chime in. And not because I want to. But because apparently I am incapable of abstaining. I DO NOT know any better, apparently.

I want to blame my extroversion. I want to bask in the fact that I know how to write well, craft an argument, site facts, establish reason, follow a logical format and then tie it all together in the kind of literary leg sweep that Bobby catches Daniel-Son with at the end of Karate Kid. But I’ve found time and again none of that matters anymore. Science has become optional, and fact, well as you know, is often seen as fake.

Yet at times I simply cannot read the comments of any single social media post from our local newspaper that doesn’t fire me up. I pull out my brown belt of an English minor and sweep the leg. Even though I know the outcome: Bobby doesn’t win. It’s a habit I would love to abandon. And have abandoned. Do abandon. I’ll be back.

Hell, I’m writing this and hoping it goes viral. As if most people have 15 minutes of spare time to read anything these days, despite having all the time in the world. But I don’t want to just sweep the leg, I want to finish this off. Meanwhile I kept trying to understand why the hell I want to argue with a brick wall. As it turns out, my fresh Darwinism weapon theory was the answer.

As I spent the day before we lost James doing anything at all that would distract me from the scene that was slowly swallowing my family in real time, I put up a simple facebook post. Maybe it was the day before that. I kept it to my “close friends” because honestly while I hate the line that has been forever been crossed between our personal and professional worlds, I respect that line. Even though I hate it. Here’s looking back at you 2015. I knew no vulnerability back then, I said what I thought. 2020, let’s fight. Even though it won’t do anything, solve anything, and almost certainly won’t change anyone’s mind about anything.

What I wrote, and what I won’t literally revisit now, was my more eloquent, own bullseye of a post directed at anyone that might want to chime in for the contingent I’ll refer to as the mask-less. I like to keep it short. I didn’t even use a “You.” I like to cast my net wide, use big font, maybe have a black backround. Leg. Sweep.

What happened next was plenty of likes from the usual suspects, and then an eventual retort from a maskless gal that I knew, an old neighbor. She had “felt attacked, Lol.” And I followed with my “Ten reasons why I wear a mask” response, which had that slow burn, eventually epic seasoning that I seared with the explanation that I wore the mask not just for myself but also for those people I cared about. It was a slow burn if you ask me. I challenged her to do the same.

She dodged, as is often the response at crafting an argument against well researched reason, logic, and good will toward men. She weighed in with something about believing gradual exposure was key, and eventually tip toed over to feeling that those people who are compromised should just stay home. Eventually, and what I didn’t see coming was, “If I go to a store that requires me to wear a mask, I take my business elsewhere and go to another store.”

This, of course, was her answer to solving the problem of a dying economy. And with this she had swept my leg.

It took me down. I started weigh in, from the viewpoint of the cold hard tile against my nose, before I eventually rose into my best Daniel-Son crane pose. I floated there above the medium, knowing that the best response is none at all, but my social knee-jerk hand grenade was twitching with Telsa coil electricity. The crowd hushed. I achieved a level of calm poise. I deleted my original post. I took her out while taking one for the team.

The crowd of my own emotion and soul cheered as I extinguished any legs that her sentiment might have received from any others. I simply couldn’t carry on knowing that even one more person who was my friend might share such a heavily flawed understanding of what the hell was happening in the world. Once again I had reached my fill of making an argument that cannot be won. There is no “I” in WON. But this was the win, or at least how you win in the world of social media. You give up. Just fighting the war can make one a casualty, at least at achieving anything positive. Unless you like a case of the red ass, then you’re golden.

This quickly prompted me to fight the other battle I had going on at the sidelines of our local newspaper page, as I rode the wave of YES-MASK in our community fighting this same fight, now with neighbors, strangers, and those in thine own orbit who clearly lack the ability to see that those of us who have realized just who we are fighting for do not appreciate their response of weaponizing Darwin in retaliation. It’s not just me you are threatening, pal. It’s my family. Take heed.

Thus, after making a case that the supreme court would have eventually used were this issue ever to make it that far within our legal system (that’s a joke, btw) I had spent all that time arguing with that impentrable social media wall. That wall that at the cost of winning and being right is dividing us even further than before. Who knew this was possible? Instead of looking for common ground we’re drowning in dislike, disagreement, and no ability for disarmament. There will be no agreeing to disagree on this it would seem.

I like to ram an argument home with fact built upon fact and fortified on a bed of vernacular that is as sarcastic as it is correct. In my own mind I’m delivering in the same style as Jack Nicholson in almost any role, but mostly in A Few Good Men. Which is apropos because clearly there are a ton of people that can’t handle the truth!

Here’s the best part. I deleted my bit of that lengthy mask war thread only after some local sport came out of nowhere backing up his brother in Darwinian arms that I had been trying to reason with before.

“Tommy Hazleton you remind me of that person in that movie the bubble boy.”

Not gonna lie, I flared up for a second. Twitching! My first response, honest to God, was “The jerk store called…” And that was followed by, “…wait…the shrimp store called!” I wobbled on both for a second, as if I might even use it, as if I would take any chance that LocoJoe might not get the joke. There I was perhaps the Bubble Boy, or quite possibly, George Costanza. Life goals.

Then I had a moment of flattery. Perhaps this guy had possibly read my whole piece. That was rare and if so, no question an achievement. Brevity has never been my strong point, and I admit I struggle even more so when it comes to writing the cliff notes for how to behave in a global pandemic with a deadly biological agent that we know very little about lurking and killing good people everywhere. And as that’s happening, so many others are being initiated into that now widely practiced and sad digital goodbye.

Good mask wearing folks now lying and dying in a world with a disease nasty enough to not see any difference between them and the mask-less. If anything this is a disease that has and now will continue to thrive on this disagreement.

“You remind me of that person in the movie The Bubble Boy.”

The perfect response of course would have been: “You mean the Bubble Boy?”

I know this is a heavy piece but that is funny. I’ve cried while writing this piece and now I’m laughing. That statement itself and that perfect response would have been social gold. But it was too late. I deleted my original response, never to see it or any responses ever again.

Once again I had risen above and denied the platform for someobody else to attack me in internet perpetuity. Life and death had attacked me enough. I simply wasn’t going to afford some other ignorant wise ass to jump on board any longer. There’s power in the delete button and that may be the strongest tool in the social media shed. I wIn.

Okay, I definitely regret that I deleted it and didn’t follow up with that response. But I did, and now with this piece I’m stepping away from the mask war as I lob this out into the ether with a hope that it has legs strong enough so as to avoid a quick sweeping.

It’s a heavy weight to bear the thought that so many fellow Americans and their carelessness might hasten someone else to have to say goodbye through the intimacy of a mask, or a screen. But right now as I type this, somebody is. Turns out there is an “I” in American. It’s right there in the middle, clearly dividing us along with so many other things.

And what if the simplest of all things could have helped prevent that? Helped give us a much needed, practical assist for re-opening our economy? Mostly, giving Covid the middle finger? We will prevail eventually, because we have the science and Corona is a simple organism that isn’t even really alive. But I can’t defeat it alone any more than anyone else can.

And here we are, even today in the midst of the real time mask vs. maskless uncivil war. And I’ve now realized that the reason that I can’t not fight back is because that’s what I do. I stand up for those who I love, and I’m now telling as many people as possible, anyone that will listen, that this brewing cauldron of social unease can easily be solved.

Simply, any physical barrier is better than none. There is nothing that will ever challenge that. The simplest of physics and biology, right there. The easiest thing to do: wear the mask.

But to get there we must respect one another and my asking someone to wear a mask is in no way any comparison to asking someone else to say goodbye to their loved one through a window or a screen. I’ve done the screen, and I know this: As more and more people join that club, our chorus of “wear the mask” will only get louder and harmonious until God willing, most people will listen.

I’m asking, we’re asking, please consider how we feel and what not wearing the mask means to us and our family, and those first responders, and those health care workers, and those with underlying health conditions who cannot live without severe risk as long as this war wages on.

And this is risk we aren’t willing to take. And we need you to understand that. And I don’t want to call you stupid or ignorant, but as I see not wearing a mask as a weapon, well now you know why you should forgive me if I do.

Don’t give the virus that opening to sweep the leg. The next time that happens it could be to you or someone you know and you might land face up on the other side of a hospital window or a screen, gasping for air, taking an eventual, profound, final breath. Saying goodbye to someone wearing a mask; or from a window; or from the intimacy of a screen.

We can all be more understanding. And I ask all to try to be understanding of what this means to those of us who are doing ALL that we can to take a breath from the war against Covid-19 to see each other and consider each other’s feelings. And just this once, please, to understand that one side is right and one side is wrong.

That’s okay. We can learn from our mistakes. We can be humble. We can be united on this one little thing that could be the biggest and best thing we can do to reach some balance in this otherwise painfully turbulent world.

Be caring. Be kind.

Let’s all take the second that it takes to put on the mask when we go out in public. Let’s all agree to do this one little thing and let’s show the world that on some small level we are still worthy of the title, The United States of America.

Do your part. Wear the mask. Not for me, but for everyone else.

Thank you.

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Tommy Hazleton

I wanna be a lot of things such as a great husband and father, an objective thinker, and a careful and caring writer who somehow makes a difference with words.