A little more than a year has gone by since the first reported death in New York City caused by COVID-19. More than 30,000 deaths followed as we marked this somber anniversary.
Sadly, Local 237 active members and retirees are part of that horrific number of lives lost. They were beloved husbands, wives, sons and daughters, dear friends and co-workers. They made us smile; at times, they made us angry. They gave us knowledge; we gave them some. They were a big part of our lives.
Many will look back over the past year and think how much has changed. There is a constant longing for the "times before." Some will remember with amazement that it's been one year since they actually went inside their offices, or took a subway ride, or had a meal at a restaurant with friends or went to a baseball game. Of course, all without masks and hand-sanitizer.
Shift Had Some Upside
Some will have learned very important lessons, including: You get to attend more meetings using Zoom; ordering online solves the exhausting department-store search for hard-to-find items; and if you reach out to the people you care about and love—even if just by phone—you still feel connected, and you wind up doing it more often than you ever did.
Of course, for some, there's also an education of a different sort, a reiteration of something you already knew or thought, but pushed to the back of your mind. It's a lesson you hoped not to revisit: Inequality.
During this pandemic year, not everyone suffered equally. Depending on your skin color and ZIP code, COVID was not an equal-opportunity destroyer of lives and dreams. It was possible for some to avoid the full wallop of the virus, living a life filled more with caution and inconvenience than fear and obligations, with resources to blunt the blow.
On the other hand, many essential workers, including Local 237 members, selflessly reported to work every day—and especially at the start of the pandemic, without adequate safety precautions in place. They symbolize what is often referred to as the "tale of two cities," one where they live, the other the city they helped to keep running.
For many of us, it would be difficult to name anything we actually liked about this pandemic year. The negative features are countless and range from the overwhelming ones—like the loss of loved ones or being sickened by COVID—to the more-tolerable yet distressing features, like having to view reruns of your favorite TV shows, or postponing your plans for a big wedding.
Appreciating the Air
Still, some have found silver linings: A presidential inauguration celebration without the customary dancing at the big-donor, political-insider galas, instead, a televised tribute to our democracy featuring average people in every state; or the day you finally felt safe enough to go to the local park, and even with a mask on, realized how refreshing the air smells and how beautiful the park is; or genuinely loving more time, more talk and more home cooking with your immediate family.
And the brightest silver lining: Knowing that there is a vaccination to protect us from this horror—and getting vaccinated.
Together, we must consider, where we go from here? As we find our way, it's a sure thing that a year's worth of VIRTUAL business meetings, VIRTUAL doctor appointments and VIRTUAL birthday celebrations won't be greatly missed. The real challenge will be getting back to an "IN-PERSON" life where avoiding human connection is something of the past and a hug or a handshake can once again become spontaneous.
Gregory Floyd is president of Teamsters Local 237 and vice president-at-large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
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