What do you think of, when you think of someone whose job is essential?
I know that all people are essential and intrinsically valuable, but this time I mean just the labor they provide in a given profession. What do we really need to survive, physically speaking?
Up until today I would have thought of a farmer to feed me and a doctor and pharmacist in case I get sick– and I would have been right. But I would’ve forgotten some essential things I’d just never thought of before, because I’m spoiled. I live in a first-world country, at least for the time being, and I have first-world problems. I assume most of my readers are the same. There are some essential jobs that we may not think about unless they disappear.
I kept seeing news about the national parks and how they’re faring during the government shutdown. Now that all work considered “non-essential” is just not being done, no one is emptying the garbage cans or maintaining the toilets. Public bathrooms are closed or overflowing without being fixed. People who visit the parks are forced to defecate by the road, and nobody’s cleaning it up. Nobody’s picking up litter or anything like that. And it’s a disgusting mess. The same is true for the National Mall in Washington. It’s full of garbage, the toilets are closed, there’s nowhere to go to the bathroom.
I was always told in my history lessons growing up, that functioning plumbing and waste removal are the biggest reasons that developed societies don’t have the city-clearing plagues of yore– they’re even more essential than vaccines, which you shouldn’t skip either of course. All of those deaths from dysentery and cholera my generation learned about playing The Oregon Trail just don’t happen as often because we have clean places to poop, to flush the poop away from us afterwards, and to wash our hands before going back to work– not to mention drinking water that has had the fecal matter filtered out of it and the germs killed with chemicals. And we’re not all dying of fly-borne diseases and the like because a truck takes our garbage away for us instead of our throwing it in the gutter and hoping the rain pushes it into the river. In places where this isn’t normal, those old-fashioned ailments still happen all the time.
We’re so used to clean water and trash that gets removed from our presence when it piles up, that we don’t think very often about what would happen if it didn’t.
And somewhere along the line, I guess we decided that working toilets, and the janitorial staff that keep them working, are non-essential. It seems we’ve decided that a person coming to empty the bins is akin to a luxury.
And here we’ve got garbage and human feces piled up in the national parks and the National Mall. It’s kind of educational– now you can imagine what it was like to walk down a Victorian street. It’s also disgusting, and I suppose it’s only a matter of time before someone gets sick. I hope with all my heart it’s all over long before then.
I don’t live near Washington, DC or a national park, but I’m seeing lots of nasty pictures. I’m going to force myself to take a hard look at them so I’ll never forget: this is what happens when you don’t have custodians to clean up and fix things in a timely fashion.
And the next time I see a custodian cleaning or fixing something, when I’m out shopping or anywhere else around town, I’m going to make a point to thank them. I’m going to thank garbage men and the busboys who sweep up in restaurants. When I stay in a hotel the next time I go to a conference, I’ll thank Housekeeping.
I’ve never said “thank you for your service” to a custodian before, but I’m going to start.
These people are not only preventing a reeking eyesore, they’re actually keeping all of us healthy, and I’m going to remember to be mindful of them.
I think we all should.
(image via Pixabay)