About a week ago I was coming home from a morning run as the dawn broke through a cold Minnesota morning. I had a late start, and when I came home our five-year-old golden retriever made it very clear that she had some biological needs that could not be ignored. As soon as she saw the leash, she was a happy camper and off we went into a secluded wooded area in our front yard.
I was in a hypnotic fog trying to collect my thoughts for the day when one of those huge trucks about the size of an aircraft carrier lumbered up the driveway to deliver a package that we had ordered from an online store.
The driver, a common inhabitant of our neighborhood, sprinted out of the truck with a smile and delivered a small box of software to keep me up and running. He also gave McKenna a hearty hug so this got her day off to a positive start. But then something interesting happened.
Keeping my social distance, I asked him, “How long can you keep up this pace? Do you see any relief in sight from the demands of delivering almost every conceivable product from your truck to our front door?”
And here is what I learned.
With the onset of COVID he shared with me that most people are fearful of shopping in the traditional retail environment. And the volume of boxes and packages and envelopes was increasing with an exponential crescendo. In late September on any given day they were delivering more packages than just before Christmas. He himself was expected to document nearly 200 stops regardless of traffic and weather.
And then he did something very interesting and unexpected.
He was obviously pressured for time to make those front-porch deliveries, of which I was just one, but he took a moment in the cold to unbutton the top buttons of his shirt and showed me a scar about the size of Montana. He knew I was a doctor, so he knew I’d recognize the scar from extensive reconstructive shoulder surgery because of the repetitive motions of lifting and positioning boxes in all sorts of weather.
He was an otherwise trim and fit guy, probably in his late forties. He’d been with the company for decades but a driver the past ten years.
He then held up his hands like a crossing guard and slipped off padded fingerless gloves—the kind that the bicycle people wear. Each wrist had the incisions to correct a carpal tunnel syndrome, which is a numbness and weakness of the hands often precipitated by repetitive work. And he also explained that he had numerous trigger fingers, meaning a stiffening of his hand, and he was scheduled for multiple injections into his fingers and palm.
I respectfully listened, we wished each other well, and he pirouetted into his truck and drove off into the cold morning. He was almost like Santa Claus but he had no elves, no reindeer, no sled, and this was only September. What will Christmas be like?
As I collected my thoughts for the start of the day, I became glaringly aware how we are all in this together as this searing pandemic affects every aspect of our lives. We are interconnected, and we need to be grateful, appreciative, and respectful of each other.
The anonymous, sometimes faceless armada of clerical, grocery, restaurant, warehouse, delivery, and agricultural workers has become the glue that holds our communities together—now more than ever. And we need to be aware of the perils of their work since many do not have the types of jobs that allow working from home. Their work can be hard and dangerous and thankless.
Until we walk a mile in someone’s shoes, boots, or moccasins, we really have no idea about their lives. If we take a moment and just ask, we may be enlightened. Actor and comedian Robin Williams is credited with saying (and so true): Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
When that big truck pulls into your driveway, wave, say hello from a distance, and thank the men and women in the big trucks. They are our lifelines.