Someone said, “Take off your fucking mask,” and then he walked away from me.

I think the person was a stranger. I don’t remember having ever seen him before, and I don’t know if I will ever see him again. But right now, recalling the encounter, I sit here feeling that I missed an opportunity.

At the time of our brief interaction, which took place on a recent visit to my neighborhood grocery store, I only laughed and said, “No.” I wasn’t going to take off my mask, and I shook my head, incredulous at a man who was not wearing a mask while many others were getting sick and dying of the Coronavirus. Masks, as told to all of us repeatedly by the best medical experts in the world, reduce the spread of the disease, which would lower the numbers of sick and dying.

I often remember to tell people to go fuck themselves, and I wish I had remembered to tell the grocery store idiot to, not just on behalf of the general population he may infect by pushing his weird anti-mask agenda, but for one special person. You see, I am most concerned about an individual who is disabled and at-risk for a disease that she may still contract and die from.

Since I may never run into that lowlife again, I would like to put a few words out into the universe. I figure he is not the only human trash who thinks as he does, that he probably believes that he is impervious to this disease, and that anyone who is susceptible to it is not worth the precaution. Maybe you know someone like this, or maybe you’re garbage like him.

In either case, I would like to say that our precautions are justified. The people that we may save are worth our tiny efforts. My wife is worth my trouble, and she is worth yours, too.

Nancy, my wife, has Segawa Syndrome. You’ve likely never heard of it. I hadn’t either, until she introduced it to me as a cross between Parkinson’s and MS. It’s not deadly, but problematic. The dystonic storms, the prolonged fatigue, the inability for sustained muscle use, the migraines, the peripheral neuropathy, the progressive paralysis, the lack of coordination… it all adds up to make her a very fragile woman physically.

On most days, her condition is manageable. She pops five different kinds of medication throughout the day, and she avoids strenuous activities, such as walking for more than 10 minutes at a stretch. She is extra careful to avoid catching a cold, because an illness can trigger a Segawa flare-up which could send her to the emergency room.

Nancy, like so many others, is a valuable person, despite what some people may think about her condition. As a disability services specialist for a local college, she meets with students with disabilities and provides them with accommodations and support. One client, for example, may have an anxiety disorder, so she may arrange for that student to have more time for tests. Other students with different challenges may get other accommodations. Recorders are issued to overcome attention issues, video subtitles are provided for Deaf students, notetakers are made available for reading disabilities, and so on.

There are a lot of people who need the help that Nancy provides to people. Nineteen percent of college students have some sort of disability, and 26% of people overall. A person like Nancy, who can serve these people, help them with their accommodations, and counsel them so that they may advocate for themselves, is worth her weight in gold.

Sure, she does her work because it is her job, but it isn’t just her job. She spends much of her personal time as an activist, speaking, marching, and writing. She is an angel, doing the Lord’s work in a godless world.

Yet it isn’t just her work that makes her worthwhile. She is a mother, a wife, and a friend. Her loved ones depend on her for support. Anyone who knows her can tell you of her caring nature, her generosity, and her wisdom. Her friends often ask her advice, and they are made better by taking it. They are improved by every interaction with her. I certainly have been.

I met Nancy a few years ago and knew right away that she was a special person. I have not been disappointed since. I have learned much from her. Not least of the things I have learned is how to measure a person—not in wealth or some equally foolish metric, but in their willingness to help others, the love they give to others, and the love they receive from others. However, even this is not all that makes her valuable.

Nancy is worthwhile for more than just her goodness and importance to others. She has intrinsic value. She is a person, like every other person, who derives meaning and worth from what she is to herself. She has hopes and dreams. And her enjoyment of life should not be cut short because some asshole does not think she is worth his inconvenience.

It pisses me off to have to make a case for why she deserves to live. It pisses me off to have to make a case for why she deserves medical care. It pisses me off to have to make a case for why she deserves the time it takes for you to put on a mask.

This shitty world, with its abundance of garbage people, does not deserve her. But she has one life, and she enjoys it. Most of all, she genuinely loves helping other people. I don’t fully understand it, but I appreciate it. I’m willing to wear a “fucking mask” to protect her, and everyone else should too.

Erick Peterson is a resident of the Tri-City area.