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By Evangelist Barbara Colbert-Brooks
     While standing in the customer service line at Walmart, I observed a man debating with the cashier as to whether he could pay for his groceries at her counter. Growing increasingly impatient with the scene, I wanted to take matters into my own hands and say, “Uhm, excuse me sir, but the customer service line is for returns … Do you not see the sign?!” But unless I wanted to be the star in a YouTube video of another one of Walmart’s legendary brawls, I thought it better to reconsider that idea. Instead, I sighed and pondered the lost art of rules and protocol, longing for the days of decency and order. 
     The cashier relented under the pressure, and the line started to move. My mind wandered back to my journey to the FedEx office earlier that day. The lady who waited on me, while jovial enough, was totally inept. A project that should have taken fifteen minutes, stretched into an hour. She was struggling with the binding machine, so decided to just abandon the project and petitioned the assistance of a salty middle-aged male co-worker. Obviously annoyed at being asked to help, he reluctantly took over, punishing me by deliberately taking his fine time to complete the project. Then, slamming it on the counter before me, with hands on hips, demanded “eight dollars and fifty cents - cash or credit card!”. Desperately suppressing my desire to slam something of his on the counter, I restrained myself. Lest I be featured on the six o’clock news being escorted out of the FedEx office in handcuffs. Instead, I jammed my credit card in the machine, paid my bill, and stormed out of the store. I longed for the days when the customer was “always right”, and service jobs were done decently and in order. 
     Finally, the cashier took my return, issued my refund, and wearily moved on to the next customer. As I walked slowly back to my car, I suddenly felt melancholy and defeated, beat down by the drama of people without walls. The warm night breeze was a balm for my heavy-laden spirit. Contemplating on how the world has propelled itself into a Hodge podge of technology, the simple art of decency and order, I decided, was just a thing of the past. No longer can we rely on anything to be as we knew it to be, or even expect it to be. Common courtesy is no longer commonplace.  Things are constantly changing. Someone once said, “If you don’t change, time will change you” True enough, as we surely cannot stop the wheels of progression. Yet, I believe that people still need the familiar. The unknown is intriguing if no more than to keep mankind from growing stagnant or entrenched in ignorance. But it’s always nice to know what you know. To sometimes get what you expect. To be able to depend on the dependable. 
     My father once threw a bowl of oatmeal up against the wall because it was too soupy. Apparently, he found it disgustingly inedible and good for nothing but plastering the wall. While a bit extreme, the implication is noteworthy. Anything that lacks consistency is good for nothing. From being able to depend upon the classic positives of life, to our own personal constitution, consistency is essential. Decency and order are what separates the creation from the creature. So, although life itself is consistently inconsistent, I guess we can even depend on that - if it’s consistent. Sigh...

Evelyn M. Bingham
     Very recently, my siblings, our spouses and families all met at our mother’s gravesite. We were there to sprinkle the ashes of my deceased brother, the first of her seven children to die. Cemetery personnel were on hand to properly prepare the sites. Half of the ashes were spread on our mother’s gravesite, and those ashes remaining were spread on the grave of his wife, who had predeceased him by four months. The graveside ceremony at each grave, was powerful, tastefully done, and a very poignant and spiritual experience with prayers, anecdotes, remembrances and was live streamed for those who could not be present. There was a balloon release later, after we all sang Happy Birthday to our brother, as it would have been his birthday. The balloons were biodegradable so as not to affect the environment. 
     Earlier, as we were all arriving at the cemetery, and as each family member parked, emerged from their cars, and walked towards the site, I found it difficult to distinguish each person, between 20 and 30 people, people whom I had known all their lives, from the ages of two, to over eighty. 
     This experience taught me how vitally important facial recognition is to all of us, and how much we rely upon it. Just how does a person recognize another if they can’t see their face, that very thing we have relied upon all our lives. Not only is it difficult to recognize people visually, but our voices are altered, and clarity is an issue. Think of how the blind and visually impaired, as well as the deaf and the hearing impaired are affected, not to mention the confusion to our babies and very young children, after we have been successful in teaching them to wear their masks and to keep them on!
     What is it about you or others you may know, that would make you recognize them as opposed to anyone else. Could it be your voice or its inflection, the sound of your step or gait, your scent, your laugh, a cough or clearing of the throat, or some other idiosyncrasy. Maybe it could be a favorite expression or saying which the person is known for, your positivity or cynicism, your personality, whether it be foul or pleasant.
  It is believed that the average person can recognize 5000 faces, and scientists have conducted various tests to prove its validity. The processing of faces in the brain is known as sum of parts perception …In early processing, the occipital face area contributes to face perception by recognizing the eyes, nose and mouth as being individual pieces. Face recognition is its most studied aspect but is only one of a few access points to the process of recognizing people.
     The ability to recognize and identify people is a key social function. It is shared by us along with more than fifty countries who also wear masks in public, many for much longer that our country has, to protect themselves from Covid 19, or to guard against pollution, particularly in Asia. In countries newer to the practice, some are struggling with having something covering their mouths and noses. People say they can’t breathe with a mask on, or they can’t have a proper conversation because the words are muffled. Many who have complained that masks are an annoyance and an inconvenience, have surely forgotten the vast number of women here in our country and around the world, who routinely wear face veils every day whether worn for medical reasons or a part of a niqab or a burka for religious or cultural reasons, still, they all obscure parts of their face.
  As the pandemic continues, face masks look unlikely to leave any time soon! Given that reality, it might be a case of learning to adjust for us all. Psychologists say, if you still find yourself struggling, over communicate use more words than you normally would and ask more questions to make sure you’re correctly picking up on the other persons emotions. I am hoping that the use and availability of the new transparent face masks become available for us all and especially for the young children, this mask wearing in public must be extremely challenging and difficult for them to function.

Considering Consistency

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