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Who’s Essential?

May 4, 2020

“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

Joseph Addison, 17th-century English politician and writer

The original meaning of a word possesses the hidden nuances that deepen my understanding, to its essence. In the case of the word “essential,” it if from the Latin, “essentia,” which means “the being or essence of a thing.”  “Essential” means “necessary, indispensable, or important in the highest degree.” In life, everyone is essential to themselves, indispensable to their families, important to the highest degree, or at least could be. 

In the United States, we worship hard work, achievement, and success, to the point that we often consider the unemployed or underemployed as “failures,” or losers. Cubbyholing everyone by one aspect of their lives is a recipe for anger, frustration, and separation of Americans into “them” and “us.” It is an artificial division that leaves a myriad of people out of the national movie, discarded on the cutting room floor. 

Work, or having a job, has become the definition of who a person is–his or her “essence.” It is not so, is it? Aren’t you and I also children, parents, lovers, friends, participants or appreciators of art and music, sightseers, storytellers, and more? Essence does not include a paycheck. 

Women and men who give up jobs or careers to stay home to raise babies know this conundrum well. They often struggle to maintain a voice in the world. Retirees wrestle with feelings of uselessness, idleness, and disability. Both are situations fraught with shame and depression. Now, millions of Americans have joined the ranks of the underemployed or unemployed—against their will. 

It is an additional slap to be referred to as a “non-essential,” as if your life up until March 15th was a fraud, a hustle, and not important at all—except that you could pay the rent, buy groceries —and pay too much in taxes. 

The word “essential” has been corrupted by the 2013 legal designation of “essential employee.” The idea of an “essential employee” came from Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican

from Missouri, who sponsored the Essential Services Act of 2013, which reads: “Requires executive agency heads to exempt essential employees from furloughs required by sequestration. Defines [an] “essential employee” as an employee that performs work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

Under these criteria, firemen, police officers, EMTs, hospital staff, pharmacists, and people in the food chain, like butchers, farmers, truck drivers, grocery clerks are obviously essential to human life. Is that enough? A labyrinth of unsung heroes like clerks, janitors, lab techs, dispatchers, secretaries, illegal farm workers, meat packers, and fishermen have been thrown into the spotlight. 

Everyone would argue that they’re essential to their employers, but how have our lives become such an entangled mess that no one can tell where “need” begins and “want” ends. So many people feel “entitled” to be “essential,” but by definition of the law, they are not. Lawmakers have dwindled the list to several industries deemed too critical to be halted during the crisis, but have mixed essential and non-essential as “critical.” 

If a person has a compound fracture, they go to the hospital. But is it the same as “needing” your bangs trimmed? This is not a matter of life or death. If a person’s tattoo is infected, she goes to a clinic, but she does not “need” to add ink wings to her angel today. A dog owner must feed her dog, but her dog will not die from missing a clipping, unless this is “protection of property”?  

Meatpackers should be given “hazard pay” and protective equipment to work in their dangerous environment. Their wealthy business owners should be required to take care of them under the penalty of being shut down. People are dying of greed.

In the face of the current health crisis, politicians of all stripes have butchered the intent of the original legislation, because each state can create its own designations. It will be “cramming the genie back in the bottle” to be opened and closed. 

In Creek County, we are extremely lucky that so few people have suffered or died from this crisis, but our time is coming. There was a time in China, Italy, New York, or Texas, when their number was “1” and now it is in the thousands. These jurisdictions have lost, and continue to lose, thousands of their loved ones.   

Essential or non-essential, you can be a hero. You don’t have to run into a burning building, swing an ax, die in a bloody battle, or deliver babies in the mud to qualify. All you have to do is stay home, wash your hands, wear a mask (for me), and recognize how important all of you are. 

This is a great sacrifice for a generation (or two) not accustomed to sacrificing, but a hero rises to the occasion for others. 

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Lottie Wilds

Lottie Wilds

Lottie Wilds is a native Oklahoman and a multi-talented woman—she is a mother, grandmother, Navy veteran, and lifelong creator. Lottie loves to quilt, decorate, garden, swim, paint, and write stories. She is grateful for every day she gets a chance to get it right.

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