Wearing a mask protects the immunocompromised from COVID-19 / Song Analysis #62: Rob Thomas – Her Diamonds

Mask-wearing mandates are new to the Western world.  In stark contrast, mask wearing is all too normal in Asia, where large, urban population centers have been prime breeding grounds for virus infection.  In Asia, many people who are ill wear a mask when they go out because they don’t want to risk infecting someone else, a concept that appears lost on too many on this side of the Pacific Ocean.

Illustrated by this image posted last week by @jennykeogh on Instagram, 40% of transmissions of COVID-19 happen before obvious visible symptoms.  As many healthcare professionals have already stressed, you could be in the presence of and close enough to someone who is not showing any signs of infection or distress from COVID-19 and get infected by the virus from them.  This is why we’re being told to wear masks any time we are out in public, even if we are able to appropriately social distance.  As a former biologist, I wear a mask because I would rather not risk the odds of getting infected or passing on the virus to another person.

Why is wearing a mask so important?  As the image also shows, wearing a mask is all about stopping yourself from unwittingly spreading the virus if you are an asymptomatic carrier.  Simply put, wearing a mask reduces the chance that you will give the virus to someone else.  Unfortunately, there have been too many cases in America already where people who have refused to wear masks in public settings have become aggressive and lashed out against mask-wearing mandates and the store employees trying to enforce them.  For some, the thought of wearing a mask is causing fear, driven by psychological and economic anxiety.  A great quote from this Psychology Today article: “If you’re reluctant to wear a mask when required, question any automatic thoughts about others trying to take away your freedom. Most likely their goal is just to keep everyone safe, not to make you buy into a certain worldview or to force you to eat arugula.”

But what if we reframed mask wearing as an act of compassion?  If we were dealing with a visible enemy, like a monster mosquito the size of a fist whose bite caused immediate medical distress, I don’t think we’d have too much trouble getting people to wear masks.  With COVID-19 being invisible, it is impossible to know if it is in front of us or not.

When I see someone walking with a cane or in a wheelchair or a woman heavily pregnant and approaching the doors to a building, my instinct is to open the door for them, and I hope you do, too.  You can physically see the person’s need for your help and assistance.  However, there are many people in the world who have suppressed or compromised immune systems whose illnesses are invisible to you.  Through the simple act of wearing a mask, you’re doing your part in protecting every single one of them who crosses your path from getting infected with COVID-19.  Today’s analysis is on a song written by and from the point of view of a man whose wife is suffering from debilitating chronic illness, an illness that may not be readily apparent to the casual observer.

Title: ‘Her Diamonds’
Where to find it: ‘Cradlesong’ and ‘Her Diamonds’ single (2009, Atlantic)
Performed by: Rob Thomas
Words by: Rob Thomas

Matchbox Twenty were hugely popular when I was in university.  If you ever listened to top 40 radio in the late ‘90s in the DC area, you couldn’t escape their latest single.  Every time I wake up at 3 AM in the morning now, yup, I think of that song.  My best friend at the time was obsessed with the band and Rob Thomas, so it’s not surprising I became a fan of theirs through osmosis.  In my third year of school, Thomas married model Marisol Maldonado.  This wasn’t your average “rock star marries model” relationship.  The couple’s love of animals eventually led to the founding of Sidewalk Angels, an animal advocacy not-for-profit.  To date, the foundation has raised more $1 million to help organizations in America and the Caribbean to care for and protect animals.

I think people have this mistaken idea that when a rock star (or other famous celebrity) marries someone “normal”, it must be a fairy tale.  All marriages, regardless of which husbands and wives we’re talking about, require hard work, and the Thomases had no idea what was ahead of them.  Marisol has been through an absolute nightmare of confounding doctors with “mysterious fever and hives,” hospitalizations, and hair loss and being incorrectly diagnosed, all the while knowing something was seriously wrong.  Though she was considered to have symptoms similar to the autoimmune disease lupus long before, it wasn’t until after surgery to remove a brain lesion in 2015 that she was tested for and diagnosed with late-stage neurological Lyme disease.  Diagnosis of other illnesses followed.

As any person with chronic illness will tell you, diagnosis is only half the battle.  I am not fond of the “spoon theory” because I find it depressing as a concept, but it is a good visual to give your family and friends an idea of how each day in your life might look different.  Personally, I find the debilitating fatigue that may exist with chronic illness one day and not another is one of the hardest things to explain.  How can you, when the next day you may look like you’re fighting fit and completely normal?  For the loved ones in your life, it may be difficult for them to relate and come to grips with your illness and how it can come to define you.  You may not be able to do the same things you used to or be the same energetic person that they remember.

I can relate to some of Rob’s worries and concerns for his wife because I have seen them in and heard them from my own parents.  I imagine writing ‘Her Diamonds’ was quite cathartic for him.  He describes his wife’s tears as “her diamonds on the floor”, parts of her that she has lost.  When you love someone, it’s only natural to want to remove your loved one’s pain and suffering but often times, we can’t.  He feels helpless (“And her diamonds bring me down / ‘Cause I can’t help her now”) because he can’t do anything: “And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do / But if she feels bad, then I do too / So I let her be”.  He hides his emotions from her because as the “healthy” one, he’s supposed to be the strong one: “So I sit down and I cry too / And don’t let her see.

In the public eye as Rob Thomas’ wife, Marisol is valiantly fighting every day to live with chronic illness.  Every day is a struggle, but she is an inspiring role model because she never gives up and has hope that there will be a cure one day to relieve her of her suffering. I encourage you to read her heartfelt and inspiring speech from the 2017 Global Lyme Alliance New York Gala where she was honored here. 

Verse 1
Oh, what the hell she said
I just can’t win for losing
And she lays back down
Man, there’s so many times
I don’t know what I’m doing
Like I don’t know now


Pre-chorus 1
By the light of the moon
She rubs her eyes
Says it’s funny how the night
Can make you blind
I can just imagine
And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do
But if she feels bad, then I do too
So I let her be

Chorus
And she says oh
I can’t take no more
Her tears like diamonds on the floor
And her diamonds bring me down
‘Cause I can’t help her now
She’s down in it
She tried her best but now she can’t win it
Hard to see them on the ground
Her diamonds falling down

Verse 2
She sits down and stares into the distance
And it takes all night
And I know I could break her concentration
But it don’t feel right

Pre-chorus 2
By the light of the moon
She rubs her eyes
Sits down on the bed and starts to cry
And there’s something less about her
And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do
So I sit down and I cry too
And don’t let her see

Chorus
And she says oh
I can’t take no more
Her tears like diamonds on the floor
And her diamonds bring me down
‘Cause I can’t help her now
She’s down in it
She tried her best but now she can’t win it
Hard to see them on the ground
Her diamonds falling down

Bridge
She shuts out the night
Tries to close her eyes
If she can find delight
She’ll be all right
She’ll be all right
Just not tonight

Chorus
And she says oh
I can’t take no more
Her tears like diamonds on the floor
And her diamonds bring me down
Cause I can’t help her now
She’s down in it
She tried her best but now she can’t win it
Hard to see them on the ground
Her diamonds falling down

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