Essential Workers and Essential Work

On the Front Lines

Every day essential workers show up so the rest of us can stay home. We are in this together does not mean we share the same experiences.

On the front lines are those vital to sustaining our individual altered world realities. These workers include delivery drivers, postal workers, police, fire and EMT, garbage handlers and those who maintain public transportation. Most critically are the many health care workers that battle the disease daily, in-person, patient by patient.

Everyone owes them the respect and enhanced standing in society that should accompany these new roles of national service in a crisis.

On the Home Front

For the 30 million-plus who have been laid off, not to mention those home bound but still employed, does that mean our role is not essential? Is virtual education merely a stage of life to be transitioned to? Is work from home just an altered venue of normal employment? Are the contributions of the retiree and volunteer communities momentarily paused only to be restarted where they left off like a Netflix movie?

Or might there be a parallel contribution with those whose work takes them into daily confrontation with the pandemic? I believe the image above captures this opportunity for those of us not on the front lines.

Re-Imagining the Future

The illustration shows a Wilson High School (D.C.) junior working on an erg rowing machine after the spring competition in all sports, at every level, has been cancelled. Nothing deflates the rewards from sports faster than the elimination of competition. Not only have games (spring regattas) been cancelled but also the joys of daily workouts with peers and committed coaches are gone.

This individual circumstance represented includes a deeper disappointment as well. For in the 2019 regatta season, this rower had participated in the ultimate experience for which any competitive athlete could aspire. As a sophomore, he rowed in the varsity 8 boat which unexpectedly won the national high school Scholastic Rowing Association championship. To drop from the pinnacle of a sport to no competitions could shatter the basic motivation that inspires athletes.

However, he labors on alone, to lower erg times and maintain readiness for a reimagined, yet uncertain future. And that is the “essential” opportunity each of us has even though bounded in place by multiple circumstances.

Victory Gardens

In a handwritten change to a speech he was working on the day he died, FDR penned the following close: The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.

Each of us can do essential work that will help define the options we will have tomorrow. All, not just those deployed on the front lines, have the possibility to imagine the future they wish to see post-crisis.

The first step is to sow the seeds of our ambition. The victory gardens in WWII were planted to sustain us for an unknown period but were inspired by belief in our future together. Today, “victory” gardens, inspired by the current pandemic, are springing up in yards all over the country.

Sports can be a metaphor for life. Even though our game plans were cancelled this year, we can still prepare for tomorrow’s competition, whenever that moment comes.

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