When the history of this pandemic is written, here’s hoping the hero is not the president, or any governor or anybody most of us have ever heard of.
The hero, in my book, is the common man, woman and non-binary individual who faced down the plague and panic and fought back with a broom. They are the truck drivers, the GrubHub deliverers, the grocery clerks, the fry cooks and especially the doctors and nurses.
All of us are giving up something, but some are giving up a lot more without a fat paycheck to show for it and often not even a fresh face, clean mask to keep away the virus. When we say our prayers, the uncountable army should be accounted for there.
They are the foot soldiers against the invisible enemy, while the rest of us pluck away at our computers at home, between bouts of Netflix and counting rolls of toilet paper. CNN said this week that 80% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders.
The rest are holding things together.
“When you go in a store and see empty shelves, you understand how essential that truck and that driver is,” Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, told me in a Tuesday evening chat.
What a shame it took this. In the words of the Buckeroos, you'll never miss the water 'til the well runs dry.
“At the end of the day we’re going to get through this crisis,” Josh Downey, the president of the Denver Area Labor Federation, said. “We know we will, but when we get through it, it will be because of American workers.”
The government owes it to these heroes to get them the personal protective equipment they need to weather the front lines of this viral crisis, and make sure they have the medical care they deserve, if they fall ill, he said.
American workers also will need to be assured they’ll have an economy and jobs they can return to once the storm passes. Downey has seen estimates of 32% unemployment by next month, 47 million Americans out of a job.
Health care coverage is tied to employment, if it was provided to begin with at the lower end of the wage scale. Throw lack of insurance into unemployment's pool of worry.
“Workers right now are scared,” Downey said. “I know I’m scared for my family and my friends and my co-workers. We’re scared, but we’re damn sure not timid.
“We are tackling this pandemic head on. We are stepping out of our houses and into the front lines to make sure America gets taken care of, that America is fed, that we have power flowing to our homes, that our doctors and nurses and mental health professionals are taking care of our needs every day."
State Rep. Yadira Caraveo of Thornton is a pediatrician, the only doctor in the legislature. She, along with Rep. Kyle Mullica, the only nurse in the General Assembly, and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse fielded questions in a telephone town hall Tuesday night.
Caraveo had to break the news to a lonely grandmother, who wanted to know when she could see her grandkids again.
Kids can carry the illness and show no signs of it, making them silent but deadly weapons against old folks, Caraveo explained.
“The best thing for a vulnerable population is to stay away from the kiddos, as hard as that is, for the duration of the social distancing recommendation,” she said in her best bedside manner.
And in that way, kids, too, are called to duty.
A friend of mine sounded heartbroken on Facebook a couple of weeks ago when she reported that her son would miss his senior baseball season, prom and graduation. What a loss to give up these rites of passage. she said. He would get his diploma in the mail and call it a high school career, an end without an ending. On the other hand, I remember my prom as a teen-driven fiasco, and graduation was just another sweaty night in Alabama. There are worse things in life to miss out on.
But what an opportunity for children to be bigger than themselves, a teachable moment, you might say, to step up and do their part by sacrificing the distance between themselves and their friends. “If you're lonely when you're alone, you're in bad company,” said Jean-Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher, you can tell them and brace for the eyeroll.
Other generations died in wars. Theirs can be waged with an iPad on the couch.
The coronavirus fight is made for the common people.