We hear the term “hero” a lot lately, and with good cause. Recent events have revealed that a great number of undetected heroes have been quietly living amongst us for a long time. We have always used that word to describe people we greatly admire, whether famous sports figures, rock stars or especially our brave men and women in uniform. But now we have learned the word can be equally applied to many other job descriptions.
First and foremost no doubt are the amazing people in the medical profession. Of course they have been heroes throughout history, just the sort that most people forget to admire as much as we should. Banting and Best, Jonas Salk, Pierre and Marie Curie, and thousands more like them have made our lives better, safer and healthier in countless ways. Now we see these brave and brilliant individuals once again risking their own lives to benefit, and no doubt save, ours.
Of course all the usual frontline workers are included amongst our heroes: police, fire and ambulance workers have always deserved veneration, never more so than now.
For me the most amazing addition to our list of heroes has been the more mundane jobs, the sort one doesn’t normally associate with danger. We have all become much more aware of grocery store employees, farmers and workers in food processing plants, which just proves how fortunate we have all been for so long.
We are in unchartered territory now. Suddenly we are faced with food shortages like we haven’t seen since the last World War, combined with the economic downturn and job losses of the Depression and a potentially fatal, virulent illness not unlike the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. Any one of these problems would be difficult enough to overcome but dealing with all of them at once is changing our way of life forever.
Every time I venture inside a grocery store now I marvel at the people stocking the shelves or ringing up my groceries. I have always been the sort who talks to clerks and employees I encounter, but now I make a point of saying thank you, and letting them know how much I appreciate their effort and risk.
The past few months have underlined just how fortunate we are to live in this country. Watching our political leaders work together in spite of their differences has been inspiring, more so because we get daily evidence of the country to our south imploding under the weight of its federal government’s unbelievable, historic incompetence. If ever we needed a reminder of the apocryphal lesson of King Canute and the tide, we are watching it unfold in real time there.
My own industry is feeling the ground shifting beneath it as well. Every day my Facebook feed is full of my friends - actors, musicians, writers, technicians, designers, comedians, and so many others - all trying to deal with the sudden disappearance of their jobs now and for the foreseeable future.
Many of them have turned to online performances and videos that are meant to brighten our cloistered lives, as well as allow them to continue creating. I have comedian friends who share their meal preparation as a daily live feed, and musicians who perform nightly concerts to entertain anyone who is watching. One friend was wondering if what he was doing really mattered, then recently received a message from someone in Buenos Aires that said, “I’m a nurse on guard for these days. Thanks for your music.” Another note from Chile read, “I wait for your concert daily, it has been your music that helps me to cope with the quarantine.”
Mister Rogers famously used to tell the story about a lesson he learned from his mother. When he was a boy and saw scary things in the news, she would tell him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Conversely of course, we will always see the ones who are doing the exact opposite, whether protesting against their own safety and interests, or actively working to harm us all.
The best thing we can do right now is to keep looking for the helpers wherever we may find them, the ones who are actively making life better for us all, and say thanks.