Skip to main content

$Monday: All Heroes Wear Masks

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

And less than one ounce of vaccine can end the threat of Covid-19! It has taken the hard work of so many masked heroes to get us here--the doctors, the nurses, the scientists, the grocery workers, the bicycle and auto mechanics, the childcare providers, the pilots, the truck drivers, the security guards, the janitors and cleaners, the construction workers and handy people, the food distribution volunteers, the social workers, and too many others to name--but a lot of us are still here at the end of 2020, and we owe our present and future health to our network of mostly undervalued essential workers, volunteers, and unpaid laborers. Thanks to all of them, the end of the pandemic is finally within our reach!

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.


Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

$Monday: Corona Summer Self-Care

Nobody wants to hang out in a waiting room at the height of this pandemic summer. One of my friends just dodged an outbreak by procrastinating on having her cat's claws trimmed. Now everyone who's been to that vet during the past few days is supposed to do the two-week quarantine routine. Now on top of copays and the usual discomforts of obtaining care for our furry friends and our human selves, there's the risk of catching the cooties. Definitely go and get any treatments that you need, but it's great to not need as many office visits. I'm doing what I can do at home to take care of my own health and have all of my stupid, silly summer fun in relatively safe ways--like having a redneck pool party in the lawn with my daughter and husband. Here are some other ways I'm staying healthy, safe, and sane while maintaining social distancing and a spark of faith that my kid might somehow be able to go back to school next month: keeping active with silly st

$Monday: Bog Witch Style on a Budget

Autumn in a pandemic is the perfect time to tap into your inner bog witch with wild hair, cozy clothes, forest rituals, creepy cats, fire, books of spells, and Dark Cottagecore home decor mood boards on Pinterest . You don't have to live in a literal swamp. The word "bog" comes from a Gaelic term for "soft," and it sounds nearly identical to Slavic words for gods or divinity with Proto-Slavic roots that refer to earthly fortune. Bog witches burrow into the true goodness of life nestled beneath all the hustle and polish and show of making a living. They focus on soft wealth and spiritual power. The vibe is slow, earthy, comfy, moody, sneakily seductive, maybe sticky, wise rather than smart, preferring old things to new, charming rather than impressive. It's about harmonizing with the natural environment, blending, melting, enveloping, and sinking into earthy, downward energy. Bog witchery vibes with hygge, friluftsliv , and the indigenous earth wisdom of whe

TBT: Full House

Remember when co-housing, roommates, and multi-generational family homes were good ideas? Those living arrangements still have their advantages, but during a pandemic, it is much safer for individuals, romantic partners, and caregiver/dependent units to have their own spaces, amenities, and entrances. I miss the days when that wasn't so. I hope that one day soon, this pandemic will end, and the Great Recession-era post below will once again be relevant... at least for some people, at some times in their lives. I'm sure it is still relevant on well-governed, geographically isolated island nations such as New Zealand and Iceland. Oh, to be in one of those nations at this time! I sure do miss hanging out with my friends and having overnight guests, but in this very particular moment, I am grateful to live in a single-family home with only my husband and daughter and to enjoy the ability to stay put in it most of the time. I sure did not see an out-of-control pandemic coming

TBT: Fast-Forward Fashion

This blast from the past is funny, because my personal style and shopping habits have evolved quite a bit since my 20s--in fact, full circle to the advice in the first paragraph I wrote, which I went on to reject at the time. In my 20s, I enjoyed extremely silly fashion. I'd look at Vogue magazines and then imitate designer looks in ridiculous ways. I tried to anticipate near-future trends, which I nailed in the first picture here, where I've "put a bird on it" before the meme was born. Yus! ...But. Now that I am a fully fledged adult with a more relaxed budget, I hardly ever shop for clothes or accessories, not even at thrift shops, where I am now more afraid of picking up bugs. I still have a lot of clothes, but I rely heavily on swaps and hand-me-downs from friends and family. Occasionally I browse garage or church sales in communities I trust to sell clean garments. The world is now drowning in excess clothing, so it's easy to rake in quantities of barely-wo

$Monday: We Can Rise Above Death Cult Capitalism

Mmm, doesn't the smell of a bonfire make you feel punkin' spicy? Growing up, I internalized the United States cultural values of hard work as its own reward, high scores, and monetizing everything. From the age of 13, I scrounged for paltry wages (childcare, tutoring, arts and crafts sales, retail and food service and office temp jobs) while earning high grades at expensive private schools. I learned to feel guilty about "wasting" time relaxing without multi-tasking or enjoying a hobby with no intention of turning it into a hustle . I didn't have enough time to eat or sleep properly, and it made me sick and tired all the time. I was curious and drawn to new experiences, but I always felt ashamed of spending any time or resources pursuing an interest that offered no clear path to a paycheck or an award that would reflect a flattering glow upon my forebears. I had a healthy rebellious streak, but I learned to justify my transgressions with proofs of respectability a

$Monday: Testing a New Kitchen Design Before Renovation

My husband and I planned to renovate our worn-out kitchen this year, with my dad's help. And--oop!--we all know what happened to everyone's plans for 2020. There is no way I can keep my family fed properly through the pandemic in my designed-circa-1990, tacked-together, corner-cut, stingy-cheap, crazy, nailed-it-wrong kitchen nightmare that has been crumbling, grumbling, rotting, rusting, and breaking since we bought this house in 2008. We have to do something, so we turned a setback into an opportunity to slow down and beta test some of our new kitchen ideas with temporary staging. It might look insane, but who cares? We won't be having the queen over for tea anytime soon, so we can take time to play with space and function before we commit to building permanent structures and finishing surfaces. For example, open shelves are not practical for everyone. They don't hide clutter or protect things from dust. However, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and prefer

$Monday: Can You Breathe?

You can't earn or save money if you can't even breathe. One reason why "it's expensive to be poor" is that people who live in lower-income neighborhoods don't get enough clean air to breathe . I've demonstrated that " You can't afford a poor diet ," and it's even more obvious that you can't give up oxygen to save money. Poor air quality destroys productivity , and the terrible costs of air pollution are mainly borne by the individuals who suffer health conditions, disability, cognitive impairment , and premature death due to their lack of access to clean air. Before the pandemic, air pollution caused mostly by fossil fuel burning was killing about 200,000 Americans a year , and now it is accelerating American Covid deaths by over 15% . Meanwhile, cries of "I can't breathe" draw our attention to escalating police brutality and our federal government militarizing Brownshirt-resembling forces against its own citizens who a

TBT: The Best Free Medicine (Hint: Not Hydroxyclean)

It's not Hydroxyclean. Or any kind of disinfectant. Or hydroxychloroquine. It's not anything hocked by our joke of a president. But it is jokes about that and anything else that makes you laugh instead of rage. Humor has become more important than ever to my family's mental and emotional health during this global crisis. My tastes may have matured (or... something) since my days of watching Sacha Baron Cohen movies--now I prefer watching YouTube shows Trixie and Katya Save the World (WOWPresents) and I Like to Watch (Netflix) and following @knee_deep_in_life on Instagram. My husband and I laugh so hard we cry over a well-timed fart joke. Our nine-year-old daughter is a bit more sophisticated, but she shares the dark side of our sense of humor; we all adore Christina Ricci's iconic portrayal of Wednesday Addams. The news is, as usual, full of horror that isn't funny. Right now, the two main themes seem to be pandemic tragedy and racist violence. My husband and

TBT: Buddhist Meditations

Zen meditations! Inspirational quotes! Sick burns! Buddhism offers them all. As many American college students do, I enjoyed studying and practicing Buddhist rituals in college. As a recovering Catholic from a weirdly fundamentalist, Germanic-ish family tradition, I found the "bells and smells" of Buddhist temples familiar in a comforting way and the anti-dogmatic edge of Zen exhilarating in a refreshing way. I learned that extreme prayer and self-control are not owned by Christians, nor is smug superiority. What valuable lessons for a young person to learn. So valuable, in fact, that in our late 30s, my husband and I are still paying the bills for our private college educations. Can you put a price on ancient wisdom? Is that a koan? In my earliest adulthood, I took solace in the meditations below. Please enjoy them here on the Magic Nutshell, free of charge. Buddhist Meditations The Buddha sought a middle path between asceticism and materialism. All over the world, people a