An Essential Worker
Last March, in the early days of the pandemic, we gave a couple of small donations to organizations aiding the poor and those particularly susceptible to the virus. We gave to certain early-on hard-hit communities like Charlestown, to first responders and to “essential workers.” We did this partly out of passive philanthropy, and partly, it now seems, because we unconsciously believed that, due to our relatively fortunate circumstances, we were somehow immune, impervious to the virus.
Now that the pandemic has lived up to its name and is everywhere, we are flooded with online requests to help out everyone and everything, from overworked and undersupplied medical staff, to homeless shelters, to bankrupt restaurants and local theater and choral groups. Everything and nothing now seems “essential.”
There is one regular recipient of giving that I have maintained over the past nine months or so that might hardly seem to be deemed “essential.” At the beginning of each month, I write a small check and place it in an envelope into our Boston Globe delivery box, where our delivery person picks it up. I’ve never met her, nor do I expect to, and perhaps don’t even want to. My wife tells me that in the Jewish faith the best donations are given and received anonymously. Of course our delivery person is not completely anonymous; for the first few months she left a thank you card in the box, from which I learned that her first name is Jane. From that I was able to surmise that she is closer to my generation than to my children’s, since “Jane” was a common name for women in the 1950s. I might also speculate why someone probably in her 50s or 60s might be getting up in the predawn darkness to deliver ever-shrinking newspapers before my 8 o’clock breakfast, but I’m content just to be grateful for her admirable service.
Every day, without fail, she brings me the news of the world. She brought me the surreal election results of 2016, the daily reports of President Fruitcake’s insane assaults on our democracy and our national ideals. She brought me the even more bizarre aftermath of the subsequent presidential election when I had to face the fact that there was nothing this man wouldn’t do to hold on to power, as all the while the pandemic, which lay like a shadow over potential political doom, surged once again.
Still, why would I place Jane in the category of “essential workers”? She is surely not as indispensable as medical workers, grocery staffs, even postal workers, you say. But what she brings to me is essential. Why? I grew up before the digital age, so that I am not comfortable or satisfied reading the news in any other format than print. I’m of an age that still trusts “responsible journalism” over instantaneous online tweets.
The saving grace of newspapers is that by their very nature they don’t bring you instantaneous news. There’s a built-in delay, usually at least overnight, between the event and the reporting. This allows impartial, professional journalists to provide context, to show how specific events fit into larger issues. And that in itself has been a saving grace, allowing me to read, without being overwhelmed by, the not-quite-latest news no matter how threatening or despairing. And that, to me at least, is essential.