A recent headline read “Nurse and Social Worker Among the Dead” and I had to wonder if I was supposed to be more upset because it was a nurse and a social worker versus a burger girl at the mall. Personally, if it were a place I frequented, I think I’d notice and miss the burger girl the most – the way she always made the correct change, the special way she undercooked my burger every single time and other little things like how she could never remember to throw a straw into my bag, but she could always manage a smile.
Is each life of equal value? If you ask your parents, your relatives or your friends, they’ll typically answer yes without thinking. (Assuming, you have a good relationship.). Sure, you may not be their favorite – they may love your brother more, their kids more, the mailman more, but you’re in there somewhere – and we are talking about a “life” being of equal value, not whether you’re better than everyone else at being on time to Thanksgiving. Still, your life, your thoughts, your hopes, your dreams, and the memories you share probably matter more to these people than say the CEO of Frost Bank – so to them, you are equally as important, if not more so than an oil tycoons or a fallen celebrity.
We desperately want and need to believe that in this world, we are some how important – whether it’s to an individual or to a community. However, when we turn on the news there’s the ugly reminder that in a broader since we are not meaningful at all. When tragedy strikes, the death roles list people by their color, their status, their job and their gender (all of the little discriminatory distinctions we fought so hard against for centuries come screaming through the speakers on our TV to remind us we’re not exactly a “melting pot”) you even get bonus points if you’re a single parent whose kids are heading straight to the orphanage once the film crew stops shooting their sad little urchin faces. And then there’s you – what’s left over because you didn’t cut the mustard – you didn’t run for cheerleader of your neighborhood – you were single, poured tar into potholes – and while we all say that’s important and noble, you weren’t a nurse… you weren’t a social worker – you were a blue collar faceless nothing according to the reporter. Your entire family could be standing in the background, their hearts breaking, but because of who you were, the best you might get is your name thrown in as an afterthought.
It reminds me of the time I was in a malfunctioning elevator so many years ago. All I could think as it jerked and bumped and occasionally stalled out for no reason was – if this elevator plummets to the ground – the one carrying Lady Bird Johnson, her daughter Lucy, Jake Pickle (a former Congressman from my district) and I– the world would not lament a lowly non-profit membership director who happened to cushion the fall of Mrs. Johnson in her final moments. I would be remembered and reported as the unimportant splat in the elevator shaft – a whimsical footnote in a tragic story.
Every person is equally valuable. And while some lives are valued by individuals more than others, they’re not less valuable as a whole. So, let’s stop reporting them as if they are. If you have to say “a nurse”, then also say “the doorman on 5th Avenue who smiled every single morning as if he never had a bad day” or “the lady next door who was mostly a shut-in, but came out once a day to tend her rose garden” or even “the guy who always stood on the corner who could never seem to make ends meet.” They’re just as important. They’re just a valuable. What we do for a living makes up only a small part of who we are and in my mind doesn’t make us more or less valuable as a person.
Although, truth be told, I’ll still probably miss the waitress more.