To the background heroes in our lives.
A heartfelt letter of gratitude from a privileged, but deeply appreciative individual.
“What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” –Confucius
I am privileged. I know that, and I say that because I have the fortune of having my health and that of my loved ones; because my loved ones and I all have a secure job, a place to live, food to eat and everything else considered an essential in almost any country. So, I am bitter-sweetly aware of our privileged position in these tough and uncertain times for so many.
I grew up on what I guess would now be considered a middle-upper class family in a conservative small city in central Mexico, and ever since I can remember my mom taught me to smile and be kind to people, no matter who they were; to be grateful and polite; to show empathy and to care for the well- being of others as well as for mine. And I loved having learned that quality from her. It was something that I thought I really liked about myself, that is until I realized I still had a lot to learn.
To be completely honest, when I started writing this letter I was not completely sure what I would say or how I would say it, but I was perfectly clear on two things: First, I knew I wanted to simply say THANK YOU to every single one of the frontline and background workers showing up in a million different ways and in a million different places. I may have taken a misstep, but I see you. I appreciate you. I owe you. WE owe you.
Second, I was sure I HAD to even when I wasn’t completely sure why. But then, as I was debating myself and going back and forth over how to convey what I wanted to say, it came to me in the form of a recent but seemingly unrelated memory that kept playing over and over in the back of my head. At first, I couldn’t figure out why, until I kept coming back to this, wanting to write about something but completely lost about what.
“You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
A couple of days ago (I’m not exactly sure what day it was, they are all a blur at this point and it kinda feels like it’s March the 312th), as I was out for a run around my neighborhood in South Edmonton, Ab., I ran past the back side of a grocery store and saw someone that looked like they were on a break from working at the store, leaning on the wall in a sort-of-squatting position with their face in their hands. Is she crying? I remember wondering, but kept on running unsure of what I would do if I knew the answer to my question.
And don’t get me wrong, I was not afraid nor uncomfortable by her possible crying. I was more so of simply approaching her. Or rather unsure if I should approach her. You see, I’ve sadly learned that with this whole COVID thing, you never really know who might be an honestly unaware carrier or a vulnerable person; a responsible citizen of the world, abiding by the stipulated social-distancing norms or simply put…a COVIDiot. Pardon my French, but you know it’s true.
So, inevitably my otherwise-instinctive response of probably approaching the person and checking on their well-being (You know at least trying to be a decent human and all.), completely went out the window and I just ran past her without so much as a small stop-and-think-about-it moment. I ran along, but my head kept silently but consistently stuck on that moment. Replaying it until I understood what I could have done and I wished I could go back.
Was she just sad? Had she had a fight with her partner? Was she afraid? Had she lost someone she loved? Was she alone? Had she received some bad news? Was she just let go from her job? Did she need help? Was she, like me and so many others, struggling to cope with the anxiety all this uncertainty is causing her?
“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” – Casandra Brené Brown
All those questions that have now popped into my head, will sadly go unanswered. I do not know why she was crying and I will probably never know, I realize that now. And I even though I know it was maybe something not as compelling as some of the unimaginable things that have regrettably happened around the world. It was, for me, a moment that reminded me with a bitter sharpness of how easily fear can lead to indifference and lack of empathy.
So, what I can do now is not just remember her with gratitude and wholeheartedly wish her the best, but I can also learn from that moment and be that much more conscious, respectful, diligent, responsible, empathic and KIND to all the silent heroes like her (Whomever she might have been.) that surround us. To all those who silently, but oh so courageously keep on showing up to work.
Either it be by pure conviction, obligation, necessity or for whatever reason. To the frontline workers, but also to all those who work on the background of those frontlines. To all the janitorial, temp and support staff that may sometimes go unmentioned or overlooked in newscasts, posts, memes and whatnot. I say again and with all my heart, I see you. I appreciate you. I owe you. WE owe you.
Thank you and please, keep safe.