An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
My husband has been working as "Santa's elf" (UPS air loader/unloader) for over 15 years, but this is the first time he's been on the front page of national news for it! It isn't the first time he's worked an extra shift or handled critical packages such as human organs for transplant, insulin, other kinds of vaccines and medicines, or even live animals. Normally this high-stakes work goes on in the background, as does most of the labor that keeps our world turning around. One effect of this pandemic has been to highlight the life-sustaining importance of all of the hard work and care done every day by lower wage earners--and volunteers and other unpaid laborers of love.
I hope that we, as a society, do a better job of prioritizing the needs of our essential workers moving forward--the basic human needs of our teachers, our caregivers, our movers and builders, and all those who weave the fabric of our society with their hands and hearts. This pandemic has been unnecessarily hard on our hometown heroes.
Decembers are always challenging for my husband and his coworkers at UPS due to the frenzy of holiday shopping. In previous years, my husband has adapted by working less at the bike shop he manages, leaving early each day so that he can go to bed by 7:00 p.m. to try and steal a few winks before his high-stress 2:00 a.m. shift begins each morning. The employee who normally covers evenings at the bike shop also works at the local hospital. This year, for obvious reasons, that hospital worker is also putting in extra hours, so he can't cover for my husband as much. Our hospital workers are dropping at an alarming rate, to burnout and exhaustion and physical illness. And far too many of them have died trying to save tidal waves of Covid-19 patients.
Michigan has had a rough go of it, like many other states, but right now I am mostly proud of us. Yes, we are internationally famous for having the kinds of dim-witted, radicalized conspiracy terrorists who do things like plot to kidnap our government leaders so that they can go bowling, or slur drunken rants against democracy on TV. That's good reality TV and therefore leading news, but the wonderful truth is that the tyrannical rule of reality TV attention-thirst and the weaponized stupidity it champions is over. The majority of Michiganders voted to end our disastrous federal administration and all the autocratic propaganda it has represented for the past four years. The majority of Michiganders are proud of That Woman, our own Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and all of Michigan's political and medical leaders who have worked hard to do better for Michigan than the limp leadership of some other states has done for their own. And the people of Michigan, despite what you may have seen on TV, are mostly the strong and silent types who have masked up, hunkered down, and made ongoing personal and private sacrifices to keep one another safe and our economy intact. We averted a Thanskgiving surge in coronavirus cases while most other states succumbed to it, because Michiganders mostly stayed home and safe. Michigan's powerful manufacturing infrastructure and workers, including our Teamsters, produced the first batch of Pfizer vaccines and shipped it out far and wide, overcoming historic logistical challenges as well as constant threats of domestic terrorist disruption.
That team spirit and work ethic are Pure Michigan!
And my husband got to be a part of making history in the best way.
Despite how hard this month has been on him, he voluntarily signed up to work a Sunday shift to load the first airplane with the first batch of Pfizer vaccine trucked in from Portage. And he was selected to operate the loader that moved that precious cargo into the aircraft.
He knew it would be cool to be a part of this historic moment, but he had no idea he'd be photographed and shown on CNN! Airport security turned the media away, but those intrepid photographers know how to get their shots anyway. My husband checked the news on his iPad after he got home from work and saw himself on CNN's home page. What a thrill!
My dearest holiday wish is that after the excitement settles down, the United States begins to transform into a society that better respects and cares for our amazing hands-on workers in every profession that preserves and sustains the life we all enjoy.
As a society, we have a problem with undervaluing real work done by hand, whether it's the hard labor of migrant farm workers or the gentle ministrations of our healing professionals. We idolize the rich who manage to find ways to exploit the people who do the actual necessary work, and we tell ourselves that the victims of exploitation deserve whatever they get. I know that doctors and nurses are respected and compensated, but in my opinion, not enough. While a few medical professionals are wealthy and celebrated, the majority of our medical workers are underpaid, undervalued, worked like medieval farm animals, and exposed to constant hazards with insufficient support.
We have a problem with disrespecting the people who do important jobs that are difficult, dangerous, dirty, and exhausting. We tell ourselves that only an idiot or a loser would get into that kind of work, because we worship net worth even if a rich person's daily actions are worthless to anyone else around them. Especially so, because we admire the top dog who can score the highest pay for the least amount of work. We fantasize about gaining the ability to purchase facsimiles of love and respect without having to earn them, even if we are useless and horrible to everyone in our lives. (Hence the outgoing presidency.) For those who never learned effective adulting or social skills, who have given up on ever being truly loved, the idea of being able to employ, bribe, and blackmail sycophants and personal bootlickers must be intoxicating. We are a people of greedy, hateful, loveless Grinches who think all the Whos in Whoville are suckers for not burgling each other at every opportunity.
Or are we?
I think this pandemic has exposed the foolishness of that way of thinking, and I see evidence all around me that coldblooded narcissism is going quickly out of style while we all sit in our quarantined time-out, rediscovering what actually makes life worth living.
Living, breathing family and friends. Loved ones who love us back. Truth and wisdom and health. Learning lessons and gaining strength by doing hard things. Honoring the real, not theoretical, worth of those skilled, caring, hardworking human beings who have chosen careers that allow them to produce real value with their own personal skills.
I believe that we are finally rediscovering, too, the critical importance of unpaid domestic contributions to a functioning society from the household unit upward--parenting, homemaking, caregiving, friendship, mentoring. The most precious and effective and stable versions of all those roles aren't paid, and can't be paid, because to render those services strictly transactional is to drain them of the unconditional love and genuine goodwill that make them meaningful and dependable.
Blood is thicker than water, more precious than gold.
And in an exploitative economy that systematically facilitates parasitic wealth, a paycheck is a poor measure of worth.Maybe, moving forward, we will appreciate and respect each other more for what we do and how we are with each other rather than what we have. Maybe we will better protect and support those who toil quietly in the background and those who set good examples of healthy boundaries and self-care and those who can and do, generously and with thoughtful care, provide a warm shoulder, a safe space, or a hot meal to nourish our tired hard laborers when they come home at the end of a long and perilous shift.
We live in a vast network of labor and care that is too big and complex for most people to understand, and therefore it is easy to forget who to thank for the lifestyles we take for granted. But I am witnessing that here in Michigan, we are becoming more aware and compassionate and grateful and self-respecting as a people, and that gives me hope.
Thank you to all of America's masked heroes! You've always held the world on your shoulders, whether the media has recognized you for it or not. Fame is overrated and private wealth is too, but every essential worker deserves guaranteed rights to health care, rest, the pursuit of happiness, and social respect.
Whether you have spent this pandemic year contributing to the survival and good health of your people out in the dangerous world or locked down inside the home, may you be treated with the honor and care you deserve during this season of new hope and forever after.