The term “essential worker” entered our lexicon in mid-March when a pandemic opened our eyes to the employees in health care, meatpacking plants, grocery stores, delivery services, schools and daycare centers we previously took for granted. Another crisis, last week’s ferocious and disruptive derecho storm, expanded the list of essential workers we previously took for granted, power linemen, tree removal workers and cell phone providers.
Monica Harter’s husband Lynn is one of the essential workers. A power lineman, he is working 17-hour days seven days a week to restore power in the Cedar Rapids area, following the Aug. 10 derecho storm that knocked out electricity to hundreds of thousands of Iowans. We owe him and his coworkers out in the heat and high up in buckets our deepest gratitude and prayers. It’s dangerous work, Monica, a member of St. Mary Parish in Pella, told The Catholic Messenger.
She and Lynn were supposed to give a presentation together for a virtual diocesan marriage preparation program on Aug. 15. Monica gave the presentation alone; she misses her husband but appreciates the job he and his coworkers are doing to make the rest of us comfortable. Pray for the safety of the power linemen and for people whose lives are at risk without electricity. Pray for the tree trimmers working to remove the obstacles that prevent the power linemen from getting to the power lines. Pray for the cell phone company providers whose services we depend on as a society — now more than ever during a pandemic that still requires us to spend more time at home than out in public.
Continue praying for the workers whose essential jobs came to our immediate attention back in March when we worried about the possibility of shortages of hospital beds, personal protection equipment, meat, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other products we deem essential.
The pandemic also exposed glaring problems that essential workers faced, safety issues in the workplace and a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 — a deadly disease for some with underlying health challenges.
Both crises reveal something else about essential workers: interdependence, not independence are essential to our existence in Iowa and on planet Earth. In his encyclical, “Laudato Si” — Praise Be to You, On Care for Our Common Home — Pope Francis identifies the need for a correct understanding of work. “Underlying every form of work is a concept of the relationship which we can and must have with what is other than ourselves,” he said. “Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God (No. 125, 127).”
We are struggling with chaos, a pandemic that keeps us guessing at every mutation and stealth-like exposure to infection and a vicious storm that caused an estimated $4 billion in losses in Iowa, according to Gov. Kim Reynolds. This upheaval has heightened our anxiety and moves us to default mode, focusing on ourselves.
However, our faith shows us another way. God’s grace percolates, opening our eyes to the essentials — workers and relationships. So let us use the spiritual and material resources we have available to reach out to others struggling through the crises. Let us become essential workers, companions on the journey.
John Conway, a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Wellman, volunteered himself and his grapple-equipped skid steer loader and chainsaws to strangers “who had none of the above and literally dozens of very large trees down in their yard,” he said in an Aug. 14 Facebook post. “The folks were complete strangers when I drove into their yard, but we are good friends now.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor