Project: Immunity Is Not Absolute

Sakara in front of green leaves, wearing a mask that says "immunity is not absolute" in clumsily embroidered stitches.

I first shared these photographs the day after laws like wearing face coverings in certain settings were lifted here in the UK. To begin with, many still showed more caution than I expected. However, we all knew that cases would undoubtedly rise and the safety of shielders would decrease.

Play the audio above for an alternative to the text version of this post (and to hear my cat purring…).

It wasn’t #FreedomDay for everybody. Or anybody, really. No level of immunity (be it from vaccination, age, health status… etc) is absolute. We are not free from this virus. We are not free from the risks of serious illness, death or long-covid.

A close up photograph of words on the mask.

I wanted to make something to support and validate anybody who’s worried about rejecting that nice invitation, or insisting that friendly meet up takes place outside. I can’t force people to be cautious. But I can ask everyone to respect those who are. I’m setting a very low bar here. I want to ask these people if they realise how every reckless act of theirs filters back to people like me (and those far more vulnerable than me) and makes our “normal” stretch further and further away. But I settled for saying it’s okay if you’re like me and feel anxious being the most cautious person in a room, it’s okay if you feel like the awkward one. It’s a feeling. But it’s not true. Your actions are valid. They (and you) should be respected. This pandemic is not over. We shouldn’t have to be the ones telling anybody that.

A black and white photograph of text on the mask, saying "show and respect caution".

Photo descriptions: Sakara is wearing a mask embroidered with the words “Immunity is not absolute” on the front, then “show and respect caution” on the side. Other photographs include me holding the mask so the words are more legible and one showing the side of the mask while I’m wearing it. The background is bright green leaves of trees.

A further photograph of Sakara wearing the mask and looking directly into the camera.

Stitching these words gave me something other than the easing of restrictions to count down to. It lent me thoughts of “how many letters can I stitch per day” (two, on average) and “how many days will that leave me to take the photos?” (not enough, as it turned out!). It also made me feel closer to those I was making it for, looking forward to sharing it on my social media and maybe helping somebody to feel less alone. Two friends commented on how -as much as they like the project- it’s sad that I had to make it at all. They’re right. This shouldn’t be a thing. For the most part, none of the creatives or embroidery artists I’m inspired by should’ve had to make their work either. It would be nice if we lived in a world that required nothing but flowers and words of love. But we live in this world. And as long as I’m here, I’ll keep dragging flowers and leaves and love and art (and cat hair…) into the frame with some of those things that still need saying. 

Photo of the mask held up at both sides by my pale, white hands.

I didn’t want to stitch into a useable mask (poking big needle holes in the fabric seemed like it could defeat the purpose of wearing it) so this is one my mum wore to work until it reached the maximum recommended hours of use. She works in a supermarket and, if anything, was more anxious about laws changing than I was, expecting that she’d be the only person in store still wearing a mask. I’m glad the shops are still recommending their use, and that some of her fears are yet to become reality. Though, as time goes on, more people are relaxing and choosing not to wear face coverings.

Using her mask for this project felt like giving a little something back for everything she does for me, even though I know my words & posts won’t help her in any practical way. I liked the thought that people could share my words with anyone who doesn’t quite get how people are feeling, or with a friend who needs a reminder that they’re not overreacting and our safety comes first

A final back and white photo of the side of the mask while being worn.

And as for now? I understand the temptations to relax back into so-called normality. I did it over the summer, I hugged people, I let go a little. Fortunately, nothing regretful came of these decisions. But I know that was a matter of luck as much as judgement. Recently, playing music at a semi-outdoor venue with a small gathering of friends, it almost felt sustainable. It felt so much more real than any of the events we’ve been existing through lately. But at the same time, I felt like I was visiting a chapter in a story book. A friendly, folky world of support and gluten free pizza. Knowing that I’ll carry that evening with me like a little tea light to see me through the winter. A page in a book worth revisiting, when the cold sets in and the case numbers… Well, it’ll do me no good to speculate. But, despite the warmth of September so far, I don’t believe in an endless summer.

I still find it hard to know where to draw the line. Which instincts to trust when they’re sandwiched between an intense desire for hugs on one side, and anxiety on the other. Though, it’s safe to say I’ll be wearing a mask on most outings for the foreseeable future. You can also be assured I’ll remove cat hairs from the next project I complete before photographing it…

Until next time,

Sakara.

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