Juice Box Heroes
On hearing the whistle of the locomotive while at Walden Pond, Henry Thoreau wrote “Here come your groceries, country; your rations, countrymen! Nor is there any man so independent on his farm that he can say them nay.” That might be the single clearest explanation of why the industry is viewed as essential right now and why we who labor in the aisles and checkout lanes are viewed as sort of folk heroes.
I won’t presume to speak for the rest of my coworkers, I can only speak for myself. I don’t feel much like a hero. Some might, but I rather suspect most feel as I do. It brings up the old trope, “I don’t feel like a hero, I just was just doing my job.” It’s fine to be enjoying a moment in the sun, having a very common place job suddenly thrown in bold relief for a brief period of time. Maybe our fifteen minutes of fame. There was a lovely cartoon tribute on Facebook with some of the Justice League of America super heroes saying to two workers with aprons “It’s official, you’re one of us, now.”
Maybe Foreigner’s lyrics would be rewritten today as Juice Box Hero. “That one box cutter, felt good in his hands; Didn’t take long to understand.” My friend emailed me “Heard today someone working for (a local grocer), I think as a check out, has died of corona. Doing what you are doing is really taking a risk and all of us need to say a BIG thank you to all you folk.” Customers say thank you a lot and it’s all very humbling and appreciated.
What’s on my mind is expressed beautifully in The Big Lebowski, that font of movie wisdom. “I only mention it ’cause sometimes there’s a man–I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero?–but sometimes there’s a man. Sometimes there’s a man who, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.”
That’s me, right now, that’s all of us grocery workers. We’re right for our time and place. But, what’s a hero? Running toward the bombing or the car wreck or the burning building? Having hero status thrust upon you, to paraphrase the Bard. The French philosopher August Comte developed the word altruism in the nineteenth century. It can be defined as unselfish devotion to the welfare of others. Or is it more of an everyday thing, found in all manner of places and opportunities?
We’re all going through something we’ve never been through and it’s calling for a kind of everyday courage, a kind of heroism. As Joseph Campbell put it so well–
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all time have gone before us.
The labyrinth is thoroughly known …we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find a God.
And where we had thought to slay another we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world.”