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Thomas Polkey wears a mask during a Charleston County School of the Arts graduation ceremony in the stadium of Wando High School. Wearing a mask protects others. Lauren Petracca/Staff

It was a week ago, or so, that I entered a restaurant for my first meal inside an eating establishment in more than three months. It was a newly opened breakfast place near my house and beyond a certain curiosity, I wanted to support the business and its workers.

Nothing felt normal. Even when a waitress wearing gloves and a mask held the door for me to enter, I wondered if that was merely a courtesy, or was she protecting me from touching something.

All my senses were over-stimulated because so much had changed. It seemed that I heard and noticed every minor sound and movement.

Packets of salt and pepper have replaced shakers. Utensils were tightly wrapped in a disposable napkin. My server explained the menu options as best she could behind her mask. I had removed my mask, by this point, to sip my coffee.

Nearby, a family with four young children finished their syrup and pancakes. I could only imagine how happy they all were to be out of their house.

All movements and noises seemed amplified. A fork clanging to the floor or a random sneeze across the room immediately caused others to jerk their heads in that direction.

There was a little conversation in muffled tones across the room. But not the usual, casual conversation about normal stuff that often accompanies such moments. I think we all could feel so much was different.

The grits, eggs, country ham, toast. It was all delicious. But there was so much else to digest that morning.

Just look around

A few days later, I happened to be downtown near the Medical University of South Carolina where I received another dose of reality. If you want to witness an area fully engaged in the seriousness of it all, take a cruise along Doughty or Bee streets or drive a couple blocks up Ashley Avenue.

Every single person, inside or outside, in that perimeter is wearing a mask. When you enter a building, questions must be answered and a temperature taken before you ever push an elevator button.

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By the time this column arrives, a decision to require masks everywhere may have already been enacted. If it hasn’t, I think it should be.

Too many folks are attaching political labels to wearing a mask. It’s way past time to shelve the pettiness. Wearing a mask protects the other person. It’s the most basic, sensitive and responsible action we can do for ourselves and each other.

Last week, I joked about the inability to know what was really being communicated when you can’t see the mouth forming the words. That said, wearing a mask is still the human thing to do and should have nothing to do with who is running for what office.

Now that I think about it, though, how much longer before political campaigns eventually create face masks with various slogans and messages? Let’s hope not, there’s already enough out there that assaults the senses.

Value judgments

So here we are, still living in a state of confusion while also being in a state where the numbers are still spiking.

Our world remains crazy and very little, I’m afraid, of what once felt familiar will ever feel normal again.

We may never feel comfortable shaking hands. Coughs and sneezes will give others pause to wonder if you’ve "got it." Will hugs disappear like the salt shaker?

I still believe there’s something in all of us that has the wherewithal to beat this virus. Will adjustments continue to be necessary? Of course!

When the ant was asked how to possibly eat an elephant, he sighed and said, “One bite at a time.”

We’re still our best when we work together. We still have to be smart and considerate, though. Just because a cause is noble doesn’t mean rules don’t apply.

At some point, wearing a mask won’t seem so cumbersome and an infringement on your freedom of expression. As far as I’m concerned, one thing still rings true. Actions speak louder than words.

Reach Warren at peperwarren@gmail.com