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Unsung heroes in uncertain times

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It’s interesting to observe human behavior, especially when things become difficult and unpredictable.

Sometimes, you see the best— and the worst—in human interactions and in how people treat each other.

Encountering difficult times provides a sociological laboratory to observe ordinary folk at work. Sometimes, many ordinary people are able to transform into the unlikeliest of heroes. They rise to the occasion, no matter the circumstances or how difficult things become, and perform above and beyond their job descriptions.

Unfortunately, many of these employees go unappreciated and unacknowledged.

Last week, my wife and I drove to our local McDonald’s for an early morning breakfast. After receiving the take-out order, I decided to park near the restaurant to enjoy the meal. The parking lot was mostly empty and the early morning fog is starting to dissipate.

Across the way, a huge 18-wheeler rumbles into in the area especially designed for big rigs. The dusty tractor-trailer slowly comes to a stop and the driver’s door begins to open. A diminutive brunette around the age of 45 eases down to the ground, smart phone in hand.

This long-haul driver is dressed simply in feminine work clothes. The early morning breeze begins uncurling her uncombed hair. Shoulders are slumped as she walks slowly across the parking lot; it seems as if she is carrying the weight of the world. The driver looks tired and I begin to wonder if she is carrying much-needed freight to Atlanta or maybe Augusta.

Walking into an empty drive-through lane, she speaks quietly into the restaurant’s outside speaker. The order is quickly presented at a second window. With food sack in hand, the petite truck driver retraces her path, climbs back into the cab and devours the early morning breakfast.

“What would we do without truck drivers?” I needlessly asked my wife as we finish our McMuffins and coffee.

I suddenly begin to think about the importance of truck drivers and other hardworking folk during these difficult times when people are getting sick and dying all around our nation. This makes being quarantined at home seem ridiculously easy when compared to what others are experiencing. Similar to those who drive big rigs for a living, there are countless others who are performing important services for us all. Doctors, nurses and all other health care professionals on the frontline come to mind as they fight this risky war against an unseen enemy.

Cashiers, stockers and store clerks are not always safe, and sometimes have to put up with surly and rude customers. This comment was recently posted by a cashier on a social media site: “Now stop yelling at us if we don’t have a product in stock. Everything and I mean EVERYTHING is in high demand and it is not OUR fault if our inventory counts are off. We cannot keep up. Please be considerate to all of us, it really makes our shifts a little easier.”

Current unsung heroes run the gamut of professions, from food preparers and those trying to serve take-out orders to personal caretakers and farmers. And it’s no vacation for quarantined teachers who are frantically trying to calm parents, provide Internet learning instructions and homeschool their own kids.

Hardworking employees are still operating convenience stores, making repairs, collecting garbage, providing law enforcement and other essential services. First responders are making calls and the mail is still being delivered; private carriers are doing a good job with the rise in Internet orders. Big box and dollar stores have never been more important. And kudos to churches who are working hard to bring online services and to those who are helping run food banks.

Also, hats off to our community newspapers for pressing on. Can you imagine the challenges and stress on editors and sports writers when so many important local events and athletic games have been canceled or postponed?

This brings me to another point. In this ever-changing news environment, it is difficult to stay on top of all the changes caused by the COVID-19 situation. News reporters and ad sales staff face big challenges and, with news happening so quickly, even feisty old op-ed writers like myself may misspeak in columns after they have gone to print. Nevertheless, we are thankful for the patience, support and understanding of our faithful readers.

Also, I know that I have left out a lot of unsung heroes, those employees on the front lines and the workers now unemployed. Consequentially, this is a plea for everyone to provide our fellow citizens with a big “thank you” or better yet, monetary support, encouragement and prayers during these uncertain times.

Hopefully, we will once again be able to provide each other with strong handshakes and big hugs.