In praise of the ‘essential workers’ helping us all to brave the storm of coronavirus

This one’s for the clerks, police officers, bus drivers, sanitation workers, and everyone who does the little things that even the least grateful of us should recognize as not so little after all.

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A cashier wearing a face shield bags groceries for a customer at at a grocery store in Chicago. File photo

A cashier wearing a face shield bags groceries for a customer at at a grocery store in Chicago. John Fountain writes to thank all of the “essential workers” helping us survive the pandemic.

Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

Here’s to the essential worker. To all the previously “invisible people” who some of us may suddenly now have discovered make the world go ‘round.

To those workers who sometimes have been reduced to being “just a CNA.” To workers marginalized in the eyes of some who see your job as being “less than”— less glorious, less important, less essential.

Here’s to you.

To all the “thanked-less” men and women who happen to be “just a blue-collar worker.” “Just a hospital orderly.” “Just a cook.” “Just a bus driver.” “Just a trash man.” “Just a gas station attendant.”

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This one’s for the overlooked, over-taxed underpaid worker. For every nameless, faceless person who does all the little things that even the least grateful among us these days ought to now see aren’t so little after all.

For each and every one of you without whom this global pandemic would be made unendurable, if not un-survivable. This one’s for you.

For those who wake up each morning and kiss your own family goodbye to brave the storm called COVID-19, faithfully going to your jobs — jobs upon which we completely depend, as life as we knew it has been unceremoniously interrupted by the greatest viral threat to humankind in more than 100 years. For truck drivers. For train conductors. For food preparers and deliverers.

For those who march each perilous day to the front lines. For doctors and medical staff. Nurses. Technicians. Police officers, firefighters, paramedics, security guards and those whose posts are no less essential; whose sacrifice and bravery are no less weighty; and who deserve our respect and gratitude.

This one’s for the cashiers and the baggers at grocery stores who, by showing up each day, place yourselves potentially in the winds of the coronavirus.

For those who stock grocery shelves. For store greeters who now direct gloved and masked shoppers to sanitized metal carts as we enter in silence and caution, determined to get quickly in and out.

For those who sometimes do the dirty or grimy jobs that make others cringe. Like cleaning up your charges at a nursing home — braving feces, urine and blood — andgently lifting an elderly woman from her wheelchair to her bed, going about your job with care and compassion.

I see you. Perhaps I always have.

In college, I once worked in a hospital, preparing and delivering meals to patients. As a restaurant worker at another time and a janitor at another, I came to know firsthand “the look,” as if your job somehow made you “less than.”

This week, I was reminded of this upon watching a video post on social media of a woman angered — but mostly hurt — over being referred to as “just a CNA.” Wearing a nurse’s smock and a respiratory mask around her neck, she spoke about the verbal slight by another woman, tears flowing as she extolled the virtues of serving others with her whole heart and being a lifeline for those at the nursing home where she worked, especially in times like these.

“Sometimes it’s overwhelming,” she said. “Sometimes you get burnt out. Some days you just feel like you want to quit. But then you’ve got them residents that’s depending on you…that touch your heart.”

Her words tearfully reminded me of the CNAs at South Suburban Rehabilitation Center who compassionately cared for my Alzheimer’s-stricken mother until the day she died.

Reminded of what it sometimes feels like to be an invisible or disregarded worker, though your services are essential and your commitment faithful.

And it moved me to write. To say, “Thank You” to the essential worker.

This one’s for you.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

Email John Fountain atAuthor@johnwofuntain.com

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