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Life Chez Dee Episode #73: Unsung Heroes

Last night I zoomed in remotely again for the second part of the advent course I’d signed up to. The title for this week was “Unsung Heroes”. On the screen, familiar faces appeared before me, and more new faces too , so even more people to connect with and get to know.

Getting our additional materials ready this week saw me thinking outside the box again. Those who read my last piece will be more than aware of the obstacles I’ve faced in providing nativity characters with many of them from my previous sets having been broken, so no longer a part of the scene. So the fact that I didn’t have shepherds and angels was no surprise. I knew that this week we were talking about key workers, and the value which has been placed on them during the current pandemic; and we were looking at how the nativity resonates today.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were seen as the lowliest grouping of people – the humble key workers who had to work in all weathers, all circumstances, with little time off and no recognition, now raised up, as too are the key workers of today. I decided to poke around in all the lego boxes, and picked out some figures … a builder, a caretaker, man with hard hat and vest, chef … typically blue collar workers, working hard, and generally undervalued. These were the people in the occupations I chose to represent the shepherds in my nativity.

The first thing which popped into my head with regards to the title of “Unsung Heroes”, was that actually the key workers we have been raising up as heroes, are indeed sung heroes … literally. We went out onto our front doorsteps to clap for our NHS, and clap for our key workers, and we did this weekly throughout the first lockdown. The support was immense. We adopted the catchphrases which were so often played out to us through the media in that we were “all in this together”, “clap for our NHS”, “protect the NHS”, “stay safe”. We wanted to show support in the only way we felt able, we wanted to pull together, make this work, look after ourselves, and each other. We looked out for our neighbours or families who were shielding, did their shopping, ran their errands, checked they were ok. People went that extra mile for each other, and being at home, staying in the areas you lived, not travelling any distances, the pace of life slowed; it felt as though we’d gone back in time to the days when that way of life, and being neighbourly was far more commonplace.

When out and about, talking about the virus has been an “icebreaker”. It is all around us, affecting everyone in some way … suddenly we all have one thing in common. No longer do we pass the time of day with a comment about the weather, but now it usually revolves around wearing a mask, the difficulties in reading expressions, even the inconvenience of glasses steaming up.

My thoughts ran to who our unsung heroes were. Was it just those who worked in the NHS, and those who had officially been given the title of key workers. My understanding was that the key workers were those who were doing valuable jobs, the doctors and nurses, those on the frontline, but also those who worked all across our NHS; delivery drivers, teachers, shop workers, plumbers, electricians, bin men … too many to list in all honesty.

What I found remarkable was how society as a whole seemed to concentrate on the dangerous work of our frontline NHS staff, our shop workers, and those in the teaching profession. What about all the other people who are out working, whilst the rest of us are at home keeping safe? What about the professions who are on the frontline day after day, whether or not we are in a pandemic, such as those in the fire brigade, the police, or the armed forces? What about the people who are working as key workers, for no remuneration such as charities, and other volunteers, or even those who have taken on the role of teachers or carers. Are these people not heroes too? Let us not forget them, nor those in key worker jobs and professions, actually doing the job they signed up for. I remember quite clearly hearing a frontline doctor saying that he didn’t want labelling, or being given sandwiches and chocolates. All he wanted was to be able to do his job, and have the equipment to keep him safe whilst he did this. Food is being given to those who can afford it, whilst food banks struggle for supplies. Yes, give priority access for shopping, so that those doing long shifts can get supplies from shops, rather than then finding that the shelves have selfishly been stripped bare; yes make sure people have the correct equipment to keep them safe, and let them do their job safely. There are who choose to have a career in a profession which has many dangers, some more so than others, and some occasions more so than at other times. All are valuable, all are worthy, and all need to be appreciated, but to single out certain professions as more worthy than others, in my mind just discriminates against the valuable work done by so many others.

The pandemic highlighted flaws in the system too. Not all children were provided with adequate learning material, not everyone was able to get to see a doctor, or consultant, treatments were postponed or cancelled, scans not available, diagnoses missed. What about those who are now living with the impact of those professions, for many reasons, have not been able to do their jobs sufficiently?

I think people in general have appreciated those who have worked throughout the pandemic, knowing that they wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. I think our country is fortunate to have an NHS and indeed it has always been appreciated, certainly by the public. I think media attention highlighting the difficulties faced, equipment not being available etc has increased support, and with the reach of the media, many emotions and strong feelings have been gathering momentum as the months have passed. Much as I believe there are so many people doing so many jobs that society needs, for which I am more than grateful, I also appreciate those who have been working outside the safety of their own homes throughout the pandemic, some in more difficult and dangerous situations than others, and I too have reflected on my own appreciation of them on many an occasion.

This evening we reflected on whether it was possible to foster a culture in which there is more respect for people in different jobs and occupations? I think we can, and I think this starts in the home. Schools could help, in lessons and in career advice given. There seems to be very narrow careers advice offered, and I imagine there are many jobs people are not aware even exist outside key jobs, and yet key skills can be applied to so many. There is a job for everyone, a job for different skills, different strengths. Society needs all sorts of workers to function normally; low skilled, manual workers, through to white collared professionals, all as important, all as needed. Showing respect for people in different jobs, and setting an example demonstrating this is one way of fostering this culture. Allowing those from different professions to be heard, giving platforms for them to tell their stories would help too; we can all take something from this, whether that be knowledge, inspiration, or empathy and understanding. To show respect is not to reward someone financially, or raising them up, or giving presents and offers, albeit those thanks are necessary and well received; respect is showing kindness, having regard and understanding, empathy, courtesy, and acceptance.

I think throughout the pandemic feelings have run high for many; tolerance has increased in that we are accepting that things may take longer at the moment, such as deliveries, and yet we are becoming less tolerant of other situations, with our patience strained when it comes to unavailability of medical appointments and such. There is a marked difference in what people say and what they do; we’re all wanting to see an end to the pandemic, and yet there are those who flout the rules … their patience and tolerance challenged after such long and difficult times. So too are people following the rules, and feeling really upset when they see others not doing so, not wearing masks, not observing social distancing, travelling out of an area, going into people’s houses, stockpiling food … and toilet rolls. Anger, resentment, and frustration builds and tolerance of others is challenged.

I think a basic human instinct to care for others, we have compassion, we want to help, and we have seen this in our communities. The Law of Survival is however, also a basic human instinct, and we are innately selfish beings, looking after ourselves first and foremost. I am mindful to have compassion for others, and appreciate just how lucky we are, helping others less able and fortunate whenever I can.

Time was needed to pause, collect our thoughts, and reflect on the enormous amount of discussion these questions were provoking. We listened to “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” – Rutter; a beautiful piece, based on Numbers 6: 24-26. Amen.

The rainbow has been adopted as a symbol of hope for all, and has become synonymous with the solidarity of support throughout the pandemic. One of the things we were to prepare in advance of today’s session was to make, or draw a rainbow, and think about all the people we knew personally who we could both name and thank. I set to work Blue Peter style in making my rainbow from Hama beads which I went rooting for in Oliver’s bedroom.

My final addition to my nativity scene this evening was an angel; and the angel which I chose to put in was one which was knitted by the lovely ladies at Fairhaven Methodist Church, and distributed in the community. The label says “Don’t Give Up”. This angel came to my house the Christmas Edward died. Someone thought about us, and by this act of kindness, this small token spoke out to me. I had been thought about, and I felt love and warmth.

What I took from this evening is that going forward we should give thanks for our community, the kindness shown in helping others, even the smallest acts meaning so much. We need to be people of action, be aware of each other, and do whatever we can to help others.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Love your neighbour as yourself.

There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:30-31

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