A week ago, the woman standing in line behind me, in a parking lot outside a Portland bakery, noticed the sign by the door asking customers to wear masks, and wondered out loud if the shop had any to spare.

Being a somewhat cautious type, I purchased a 20-pack in February just for moments like this, and I offered her one. When I came back from grabbing it out of my glove compartment, I asked her a few questions. Politely, really. Plus, I had my mask on. Any random mouth grimaces would be hidden from view.

As it was, there was nothing to curl my lip at. Just a glimpse through a different experience and perspective.

“I’m curious,” I said. “Aren’t you vaccinated?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Can I ask why?”

“Sure,” she said. “Didn’t you see the videos about women and infertility the COVID-19 vaccines?”

I hadn’t seen the videos, but knew there were something online in the spring, mainly circulated in a social network I don’t use. (As you might have noticed, I prefer conversations with more depth than can generally be conveyed by 280 characters.)

Having basically ignored that particular discussion, I had no grounds to challenge the woman’s point of view. I told her I’d heard something vague, and commented that, for me, the value of protecting others who might be more vulnerable to the virus and its offspring outweighed any personal risk.

Up to that moment, I’d begun hoping the lead story of our lives might change. That even though we weren’t out of the woods yet, we were definitely on the right track.

What was I thinking?

I must have forgotten I am a member of the only earthling species that daily demonstrates, with arrogance of an individuality that threatens our collective health and survival, the only thing that matters is personal liberty. We are nation of the special and singular, and half of us choose not to join an effort known to slow the incredibly rapid transmission of a deadly disease.

Personally, I’ve found that my frequent bouts of certainty are unreliable. So, if I admit to not knowing the answers, whose advice am I going to follow? Those who perpetuate rumors, retweeting stories whose links they do not even read or researchers who spent years looking at this sort of thing since well before you and I, and even they, first learned the acronym for “2019 novel corona virus disease?”

Early on, I was skeptical about the pandemic. I flew to Denver at the end of February 2020, four days before the first U.S. death was confirmed. I didn’t own a mask, but by the time I returned to Maine, two weeks later, I’d seen covered faces in planes and airports. Three weeks after that, Maine reported its first COVID-19 fatality and a Massachusetts friend sent me my first masks.

It’s cooler and dryer here than in the south, and it might have been easier for me to breathe through the four layers of folded cloth she stitched together than for those in warmer and more humid places. At any rate, I thought wearing the things would ease minds, if nothing else.

For two winters and the seasons between, I avoided public spaces with a sense of righteousness. I shoveled what little snow fell from the sky, provided telephone support for Sanders for President volunteers in Georgia and Ohio, daydreamed about a road trip to meet them all once the plague settled down, and wore my masks with pride and anticipation of the journey. I avoided looking directly at the unmasked, because I didn’t want them to see judgment in my eyes.

I accepted the inconvenience and discomfort, and rejoiced with my neighbors this past May, when we got our faces back, got to see and cook for and hold our loved ones. Now, after planning vacations, and letting our guard down a little, it looks like we’re headed back to the isolation and online meetings and the terrible sadness of COVID-19.

The disagreements over masks, and later about vaccination, contributed to a fractionalization of society that was well underway long before the novel coronavirus began to hitchhike the respiratory chambers of global tourists. What is it that makes people fear 40-and-a-half square inches of 2-ply cotton jersey more than deadly microbes vacationing in their otherwise healthy nostrils?

It seems to me that one feature of most of our deeply divided national debates, whether about guns or procreation or COVID-19, is a lack of honesty.

But right now, I am just angry and tired. So, here’s how I really feel, as politically incorrect as it will sound.

Let’s let nature take its course, from here on out. Enough of us have done the responsible stuff. We stayed home, wore masks in public, kept our full fathom of distance and skipped this year’s trip to Disney World and the beaches of St. Somewhere.

We’ve deprived ourselves of physical contact and the communion of shared spaces. Singers have gone more than a year without the joy of choral celebration; teachers struggled to do their jobs across a communications chasm. Combined with the disruptions caused by climate change, and regardless of who or what caused any of that, we need to cut each other some slack.

We need to say, “The Enlightenment and the rights of man are all well and good, but maybe I can put my personal ability to choose the truth I want – even when it could kill a total stranger whose sister went to Disney World when I did – aside. Just this once, I’ll take a shot or two for the team.”

I’ve started wearing a mask inside public spaces again, and there are about 15 more in the glove box for anybody who needs one. I got my shots back in the spring and avoid close contact with those who, for good reason or none, refuse the vaccine. Somewhere between half and three-quarters of my fellow citizens seem to be on the same page.

But, if that doesn’t work, if people still want to put themselves at risk, let the private sector set its own boundaries. Call it capitalism’s last hurrah. I’ll take my chances. I’m only a couple of years short of my three-score-and-ten, anyway.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a bi-weekly basis.