My Soul Cries Out: could dignity for workers be born from this crisis?

My Soul Cries Out: could dignity for workers be born from this crisis? March 31, 2020

On March 25, the Christian church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation. This feast day celebrates the announcing by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she will have a son named Jesus, who will free his people. She has some questions about this announcement. She is young. She has not done the things you would have to do to become pregnant. She is of modest means. She is not the kind of person whose kid will change the world. The angel assures her that it will be, and she consents.

In some parts of the world, this day was celebrated as the start of the new year. It makes sense, if Jesus is your guy, that the beginning of the idea of Jesus would be the right place to start again. This feast day has also historically been one of the primary celebrations of the church. In the Orthodox churches, it can be celebrated along with Good Friday or Easter, if they fall on the same day. That is about as important as a day can be. It is the beginning of a familiar yet new thing. God with us, turning the world as we know it upside down, bringing hope and justice for the forgotten.

This year for March 25, I was self-quarantined at home, along with most of the city I live in, trying to flatten the curve of the spread of the novel coronavirus, CoVid-19.

I live in an apartment building in a complex of buildings with a staff of doormen and porters who keep the buildings going. Monday one of the porters came up to drop off a delivery. Outside of some apartment doors, you can see deliveries left by these same porters, left because the person inside is sick or has been self-quarantined because of exposure. These guys, whose work is usually in the background, are now visible, front-line, essential workers making our day to day possible.

This crisis has made visible in New York City the many, many people who are essential to making a city like ours work. Turns out essential workers include grocery store cashiers and stockers, porters, home health aides,  and drivers.

When the porter came to deliver our groceries that day, I opened the door to his familiar face, masked, six feet away, with a look of absolute terror in his eyes.

Of course, he was terrified. How could he know what was behind the door, any door on which he knocked? And even if we were familiar, friendly faces, how could he be sure we were well; that we would not move forward too quickly; or expect him to do more than he safely could? What is the correct tip for knocking on our strange door in these terrifying times?

Maybe in this long period of waiting with Mary, we too can sit with the loss of our expected future. It seems right to pay attention to the grief and the sadness, the anticipation of so much more loss and an unknown future. But as this starts, this inception of a new way to be for us: masked, washed, six feet apart, and acting as though we are contagious with an incurable illness, I hope that what is growing includes the revelation of the essential nature of so much work, critical to life as we have decided to live it. I am aware anew of the critical importance of farmworkers, cleaners, cashiers, repair workers, and porters, people who are not but must be paid a living wage, have access to good healthcare, and decent housing for their own sake, and also, as we are learning, for all of our well being.

I hope that when we get to the end of the year, when Annunciation concludes with Incarnation, Christmas, we will remember these days when it was made so clear to us that we are all interconnected. When so many workers in our city said yes to risk themselves for the rest of us, maybe they had no choice, but still, they said yes. May it be like the beginning of a new era, as if God looked upon the workers of this city and called them blessed, the bearers of hope, of a world that can be, and we honored the dignity of their work and the blessing of our interconnectedness.


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