D. Louise Brown

Louise Brown

I’m picking up another kit this morning that contains materials to sew 100 medical masks. I’ll take it home, turn on my sewing machine and get to work to meet the Saturday morning deadline. This will be the third week I’ve done this.

People tell me I’m a great person for doing this. The truth is, I’m not doing this because I’m a great person. I’m doing this because the pandemic was turning me into a not-so-great person, someone I was beginning to dislike. So when I saw the chance to do some good, I took it.

COVID-19 has thrown us all into survival mode. The problem with survival mode is our focus turns inward to ourselves and our needs. We slip into a self-centered existence where our sentences begin with “I”: I need a haircut. I want a hug. I am tired of staying home. I don’t think these politicians know what they’re talking about. I can’t home-school these kids another day. I miss my friends. I think our leaders are too restrictive. I think our leaders are not strict enough. I need toilet paper. I want to go shopping. I hate that everything has shut down. I have to see my grandkids. I miss the gym. I hate wearing a mask. I think the numbers are fake.

Another problem with survival mode is it pits us against each other. Let’s be real, if the hospital has 50 ventilators and I come in as case number 51, I’m out of luck. It’s the same with toilet paper. If you buy it all, I’m forced to look for an alternative. And we view each distant person we see as a potentially life-threatening COVID carrier — especially if he or she sneezes.

Mired in that kind of thinking, I almost bypassed the chance to help sew 5 million masks for local medical personnel. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ LDS Charities teamed up with Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health plus other groups to develop “Project Protect,” an ambitious proposal to create 50,000 kits of materials to be sewn by local seamstresses. The plan: 10,000 seamstresses each sew 100 masks per week for five weeks to create 5 million masks.

If I was a seamstress, the decision would have been easier. But I’m not, and it wasn’t. I had to ponder it a couple of days. I talked myself out of and into it. But the clincher was realizing this was something I could do to turn my inward focus outward.

So three weeks ago, I drove to the local Deseret Industries where a cheerful volunteer tossed a bagged kit into my car’s opened rear window. I went home, dumped out the contents, watched the online tutorial video one more time and got to work. Like I said, I’m not much of a seamstress (heavy on the “stress” part), so it wasn’t easy. That first batch was sewn with a few mistakes — and lots of prayers.

Basically, long flat propylene pieces are sewn into a tube with notches on the sides. Line up those notches, pin and sew to form two pleats. That’s the face part of the mask. Then sew long ties on each side of the mask and ta-da! One mask down, 99 to go. Each mask requires four pins for the pleats and four more for the ties. For 100 masks, that’s 800 pins individually hand-placed, then individually removed to carefully sew what they hold in place.

It takes me about 20 hours to sew 100 masks. That’s a lot of quiet time with nothing but my thoughts churning against the whir of the sewing machine. I thought a lot about the medical professionals who will use these masks — the “essential” group literally on the front lines of this pandemic. I hope the masks on their faces will give them not only the protection they’re designed to give, but will also lift their hearts as they realize some woman at her kitchen table slowly, awkwardly assembled that mask because she appreciates and supports what they do.

That’s what I learned from this experience. I thought I was sewing these because I needed the lift. But once I imagined the finished mask in my hand protecting someone who needed it so he or she could carry on their lifesaving work, that changed.

I’m into week three today, headed for all five weeks. My part will represent 0.01% of the sum total. I wish it was more — but am glad I can help. That feeling is multiplied by the thousands of seamstresses commenting in our newly formed online community.

We don’t know the cure for COVID yet. But we are discovering cures for ourselves.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.

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