This is not an article about the choice to wear a mask or not. It’s not about shaming or some kind of political agenda. Think of this as a freedom proclamation that can only be discussed after a life changing pandemic in the 21st century. A time period where we carry tiny computers in our pockets, order our groceries (and almost everything) online, consider flying people to the moon and wear an almost archaic mask to stop the spread of a virus. It’s a very interesting time in history—complex and yet simple.

To explain how much I appreciate this newfound freedom in the summer of 2021, I should explain how the last year made me feel. For me, the mask was restrictive, it hindered my ability to communicate with others. It’s challenging to read people, to see their emotions through facial expressions while they wear a mask. This is what it must be like for a stand-up comedian in an empty room, a beauty pageant with blind judges or a track race without timers. What are we doing here if we don’t have these counterparts to make sense of our purpose or abilities. Maybe, for some of us, our purpose is to connect with each other. And not in a superficial, “what up” text kind of way, but in a face-to-face, real conversation with words kind of way.

Remember your very first best friend? Yep, you met them face-to-face, you shared some kind of interests and you probably laughed together. If you are old enough, you didn’t text, snapchat or email back and forth. You actually had a real relationship that included face-to-face communication. Just seeing your friend’s smiling face would make you smile. You could tell when they were sad, mad or disappointed just by their facial expression and body language. This is how we build real intimacy with people and create real connections. I don’t know about you, but this makes sense and it’s important in our digital world. Especially in a world that didn’t make much sense last summer. A summer of isolation, political shaming, violence and a movie-turned-reality version of “I Am Legend.” That may be a bit extreme, but I don’t think I am the only person to have some extreme perspectives of 2020’s health pandemic. I did have to call my best friend (she’s a nurse) to get the lowdown of the vaccine to make sure I wasn’t going to change into a zombie like the ones trying to kill Will Smith (who played the main character in the movie). She reassured me that I would be fine, and asked that if it was true, would I want to be the only person not turned into a zombie? Simple enough—I know I won’t be a zombie… maybe I should not watch sci-fi anymore.

As I am writing this article, Independence Day is just around the corner. It really means a lot this year, as the world has changed since last July. And maybe the world has not changed, but I have. I see a country of very different people, for which this country was created. I have no expectation of anyone to change their thoughts, feelings or beliefs to the same as mine; but for someone to at least listen to my perspective if they ask. As I celebrate the 4th of July this year, I will share my smile, be thankful for what I’ve got and make a birthday wish for people to respect each other, respect things/material objects and to respect themselves.

Respect has been demanded this past year, and that’s not really how it works. Take a step back, sassy pants, shut your mouth and listen to others—something we could all do a little more of. It takes only a bit of time to listen to someone, consider their viewpoint and offer them respect. It takes very little energy to take care of our environment, our possessions and be mindful of our material possessions—as well as others’. And maybe it’s the most challenging to take care of ourselves—to respect our bodies and minds. I think we can try a little harder—I think we can do a little better. Our masks were aids to prevent the spread of disease and they were used as tools to hide behind while shaming and disrespecting others. Can we do better than this? Can we come together?

So, let it be known that this summer of 2021, we will recognize our freedom to be ourselves—to recognize and maintain the freedom of all persons, and to do no act or acts to repress such persons. That a vaccine, good hygiene and a good attitude will allow us all to be mask free, to spend time together and begin again with opportunities of connection and peace. That all individuals will take personal responsibility for themselves and their choices while joining together in creating a culture of health and well-being.