Terry McLaughlin: We are all essential
We Americans have been going through a particularly tough period, and not just for the past year.
As difficult as the past 12 months have been, the hardships and controversies caused by the appearance of the coronavirus only seemed to exacerbate an already divisive period of discord in our country, in which our dialogue has been peppered with terminology and accusations that have only served to widen the gulf between citizens with differing viewpoints.
Those on the left have been called socialists or communists, calling into question their patriotism or love of country.
Those on the right have been deemed deplorable or irredeemable, calling into question their character and humanity.
But during the past year another word has come in to vogue — a word far more cruel to those to whom it has been applied. That word, which has been used freely and without thought throughout our entire experience with the coronavirus, is “non-essential”.
At the beginning of what was expected to be a two week countrywide lockdown, medical personnel and first responders were referred to as “essential workers,”and who could argue with that during a medical crisis? But before long, the lives and livelihoods of our citizenry were being defined by the words “essential” and “non-essential.”
Lockdowns and business shutdowns threatened livelihoods, and in some cases created financial ruin and emotional turmoil.
It was painful to watch a recent interview with the woman who owned the Pineapple Grill in Sherman Oaks, a small outdoor café that had been shut down by governmental decree on the very same day that a giant outdoor catering operation was allowed to open in her parking lot to feed the cast and crew of a television show in production. You could hear the desperation in her voice, and knew that it was echoed by thousands of other small-business owners who have suffered mightily in the past year, feeling abandoned and wondering how this could be even remotely fair.
Why is filming a commercial considered essential, but running a restaurant is not? Why is boarding a crowded plane safe, but attending an indoor church service is not? Why is it safe to shop at Costco or Walmart, but not to get a haircut?
And how can citizens be expected to obey elected officials’ edicts when they don’t follow their own rules? It is easy to understand the frustration expressed by many.
Should we be surprised by the increase of domestic abuse, drug addiction, clinical depression and suicides among persons who have been told that they and the services they provide have been deemed “non-essential” — having little or no importance, dispensable, gratuitous, needless, unnecessary?
No one person is more essential than the other, for one cannot function without the other. Teachers are essential to students, just as students are essential to their teachers. Factory workers are essential to their customers, just as those who purchase their products are essential to the workers.
We are all essential to our families, our neighbors, our co-workers, and people we do not even know, but for whom we make a difference in their lives. Our worth is not based upon the job we do or our political affiliation, but upon our very humanity.
Feelings of discouragement and worthlessness are just one step away from despair, the oppressive belief that you can do nothing to improve your situation. And a person in despair may find themselves literally or figuratively teetering on the edge of a cliff, feeling completely overwhelmed and helpless, ready to jump.
But the opposite of discouragement is courage, and the opposite of despair is hope. So for those on the precipice, hold on. Hope is real and within your reach.
Hope is showing its face in the number of coronavirus vaccinations being developed and approved and administered right now, all around the world and in our own community.
Hope is in the growing number of therapies and procedures that have been shown to successfully treat the coronavirus over the past months.
Hope is in the generosity and support of our local community members and organizations that have come together to help our small-business owners and their employees.
Hope is in the courtesy and consideration of masked strangers who are working diligently every day to be sure that our public environment is clean and safe.
There is hope to be found in every experience, even one as potentially life-changing as a societal shutdown in the middle of a medical crisis.
The past months have brought neighbors together in ways they might not have imagined, helping each other with some of their most basic needs and finding new and creative ways to connect and bond.
The past months have restored family unity for many families who found themselves homebound together, working and studying and sharing conversation around the dinner table.
The past months have forced all of us to slow down and recognize what is really important in our lives, and just how essential each one of us is.
So for those who have found themselves on the precipice of the cliff, fighting to maintain their businesses, their homes, their health, their sanity, or doubting their own worth or importance: Don’t jump! Hold on to that ray of hope and the relief that is just on the horizon, and know that you matter, you are needed, and you are essential.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at email@example.com.
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What times we are living in! Climate change, pandemic! Social media! What else is new?