Recent weeks have witnessed a buzz unlike any other during my 17-month tenure in the call center at Member Services. We associates have been tasked with the responsibility of advising callers as to what their insurance will cover with regard to COVID-19 testing and treatment, as well as coverage information for those whose non-related treatment has been impacted by the social-distancing and stay-at-home mandates in place across the country. Unlike many of the other teams whose training had enabled and equipped them to work from home, our unit had been coming into the office through last week (we are now, to our great relief, all set up to work remotely). During the interim, though, we were given letters to keep in our cars that deemed us as “essential” personnel, in case we might be stopped by law enforcement on our way to or from work:
To Whom It May Concern:
The appropriately credentialed bearer of this communication is a mission-critical leader, employee, contractor, or vendor tasked with the provision of vital support services at hospitals and critical healthcare support locations across the nation in emergency support response of the COVID-19 Viral Pandemic ...
While working in a health insurance complex is a far cry from the hazards to which other essential workers are being exposed in, for instance, hospitals, I found the status bestowed upon me in reflection of an earlier time of national crisis that occurred in my first career as a rabbi. On the afternoon and evening of September 11, 2001, after the shock of the terror attacks were registered, I was summoned to a conference call of faith leaders from across Denver in my capacity as president of the local rabbinical council. We all agreed that a sacred gathering of our Abrahamic faith communities was of paramount importance, and speedily organized a program for the next evening at one of the larger churches. We followed our hearts and souls as we guided over 500 participants in prayer, consolation, and affirmation of our commitment to be one community. It was, to put it mildly, a sacred moment.
Were one to square the collective experience of 9/11 with that of the Coronavirus, we would come away with two traumatic chapters that are bound by unpredictably, intensity, and uniqueness. And the coping mechanisms, while played out through distance and proximity, respectively, might be seen in the harmonious light of discovery and love. As we strove to transcend communal and cultural barriers to embrace our cousins from other cultures then, we endeavor to use technology to melt away the physical distancing so that relationships with our dear ones might illuminate the darkness spawned by the silent, contagious enemy.
Sacred. Essential. Two powerful adjectives that describe the populace and the leadership alike, which span nearly two decades. Seeing ourselves as children of God tasked with a mission to be in community was the new growth spawned from the ashes of 9/11. Abiding by the mandate to shelter in place compels us to reflect on our essential value and keeps us safe enough to arrive, soon enough, to a new plateau of appreciation for the ability to gather.