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Essential Absurdities

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020 @ 8:08 AM
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Begging pardon, might I pose a personal question? 

Are you essential? 

Well, to be fair, this is more a professional query on its face. Each of us is in an absolute and eternal sense essential. Else, our Creator would not have seen need to place us on this planet. 

A planet which at the moment is coping with an unforeseen—by humanity—crisis of both physical and emotional health. No, this is not the Black Death or the Spanish Flu. Though, in an uncomfortable irony, that 1918 outbreak also now appears to have originated in the same land if not same region as COVID-19. 

If not anywhere near the devastating scale of those truly world-ravaging plagues, this virus has somehow brought the world’s healthiest, wealthiest countries to a sudden standstill. Whether it should be so no longer matters save as an example how to or rather not to handle future crises. 

At this moment the personal/professional question has become, are you essential? Essential to the continued function of altered America, that is.  

It is a serious situation no doubt…yet don’t we all regard ourselves as essential to some extent? That if we don’t show up to work or perform our daily duties the orb will slip from orbit? Oddly we must also believe Old Earth allows for vacation and sick days, somehow. 

Still it is worth wondering just how essential am I on each and every turn of the world. Such self-examination isn’t entirely reassuring, either, most certainly not in an Age of Me. 

Seriously. Who wants to be told they aren’t essential? As a college sports scribe I learned long ago: they can and do play a game quite competently without me present to talk about it all, much less second-guess every call and move. Would that more of my media tribe, most especially political commentators, could grasp and accept this cold fact. 

Fortune has published a list of 13—someone did not think that tally through—types of professions regarded as essential by the Department of Homeland Security. That it falls to an agency created for interdicting terror threats to decide who should stay on their job in a public health crisis is suddenly not at all odd. 

Much of the listing makes complete stay-on-the-job sense. Law enforcement, emergency personnel, the military and those who support and equip them. The same status applies to energy production and delivery, as well as in our wired world to much of the communications industry. 

Agriculture most certainly continues as Mother Nature’s annual cycle hits a spring stride. Livestock must move to market and through processing and packaging. Foodstuffs and household essentials remain on sale as over-worked shelf stockers try to stay an arm’s length ahead of increasingly frantic folk. All items must be moved, vehicles refueled regularly, roads maintained. These are essentials. 

Ahhh, and with all us non-essentials captive at home, our trash production explodes. Give great praise to sanitation workers, who in the best of times deal with our normal mess. Now, they must collect and haul waste materials which are obvious infection avenues. 

If most of the list seems obvious there are some surprising essentials. Take funeral home and cemetery staff. Even without any viral shutdowns the reality of life and end-of-same remain. A spring wedding can be postponed. Attending to the dearly departed cannot. 

The truly curious case though is the area which ought to be most obvious. We automatically expect health care and public health personnel to be either at their posts or on call. To a large part they are, yet all is not as is should seem. Hospitals and medical centers have suspended elective care and with caseloads down, beds not used—and all hope it stays so—staff are being told to stay home. Without pay, usually. But they cannot go on an impromptu vacation, even if travel and lodging were available, as none know what these coming weeks may bring. Or, not. 

We may make some sort of sense, if only fiscal, out of this. What must boggle any thoughtful mind is the colossal contradiction of abortion clinics remaining open and doing their business without interruption. 

Yes, the most elective procedure of all continues unabated while vision and dental care is delayed. There is an inherent cultural commentary and most can’t hear it. We are more frustrated by running short on Netflix options or missing out on baseball’s Opening Day. 

This may well be the great curse of COVID. It is exposing our essential absurdities. 

David Murray 

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