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In Search of Essential



Have you ever attempted to list all the essential things in your life? All the things that would be difficult to live without? Perhaps, your list would include forks, shoes, mothers-in-law, applesauce, wedding pictures, aunts, pickup trucks, shopping malls, smartphones, Facebook, pajamas, and pancake mix. We might disagree on an item or two, but you have to admit that this list is essential but hardly exhaustive.


While packing for a recent trip, I was again reminded of what 'essential' means. Besides my miniature ‘support’ donkey that accompanies me whenever I travel, I have a small bag for holding the things I consider essential- very important items I need at my destination (toothbrush, comb, prescription medications, and a bag of special treats for my support donkey, etc.)


I named my precious little donkey ‘Muffin.’ Fresh steamy Muffins are a kind of comfort food, and it is also what he produces ever so conveniently in the special donkey litter box I built for him. I say Muffin is a ‘he,’ but that changed when a former owner forced him into a sort of transgender surgery, removing his ‘essentials.’ Now no longer able or interested in reproducing, Muffin is more attentive to my needs.


My relationship with Muffin is a bit complex. I find myself relating to his/her disfiguration as I struggle with feelings of being unessential. We both now suffer from an existential confusion of identity. Muffin no longer fits into a traditional sexual category, and I now doubt the value of my very existence. Figuratively speaking in my case, we’ve both been neutered. Perhaps that is why we cuddle up on the couch eating mac-n-cheese for hours.


Today, the word ‘essential’ is much the talk. Early in our present-day pandemic, discussions were held and policies established that attempted to articulate who is and who is not, and what is and what is not ‘essential.’ Evidently, the CDC thought it a mission to sort it all out. Of course, discussions led to arguments as we could not all agree as to who was so necessary as to risk getting ‘punched in the gut’ with a virus. Some, including myself, were insulted that we couldn’t find ourselves on any official list of ‘the essential.’


While on a golf course recently looking for my ball, which had embedded itself at the base of a Saguaro cactus, I said to my golf cart mate and brother, “Brother, you’re one of the least essential people I know.” Because misery loves company and we freely intersperse personal insults with serious banter, he paused a moment to consider my claim.


My brother is smarter than I and proved as much when he slowly muttered, “Well, brother, I have grandchildren who believe I’m essential. My children will vouch for my essentialness. My wife, by and large, believes I’m essential. I’m quite certain yours don’t.” Ewe! Ouch! Ouch, because he might be right! I’ll have to ask them. I’ll take the opportunity to tell the grand kiddies how a ‘Will’ works.


Back at the clubhouse, I ask the golf pro what it feels like to be considered ‘essential?’ He looks at me like I’ve lost my golf balls and waits for an explanation. Maybe 45 years old, fit and trim, I tell him that the CDC says that anyone who provides ‘services to the elderly and handicapped’ qualifies to be in vaccination Phase 1a. That is why golf courses were allowed to stay open and pros allowed to teach. He laughed, but I was serious. My brother, also handicapped but with a much lower number than I, also laughed. “You guys laugh… but look it up (CDC Vaccine Phase Details).”


Being a sensitive, caring man, my brother thought he saw a golf pro possibly burdened by his responsibility of being an essential service provider. “How are you holding up with this pandemic?” my brother compassionately asks. “Is there any emotional need you want to discuss with me? Are you getting the resiliency training necessary considering the stress you’re obviously under?”


The pro looks at us like we’re both nuts. Finally, he interrupts my brother and says, “Gentlemen, if it weren’t for you folks paying us to play golf at our course, I’d be out of a job. That would possibly stress me out, ok?”


As you can tell, I’ve made a bit of a study out of who the CDC believes is so essential to be included in a phase for vaccination and those who are not (they do not include what will happen if there is not enough vaccine — minor detail).


The good news is that nearly everyone is included unless you are 64 years or younger and retired- which, unfortunately, describes my brother. Having found a vaccination loophole for the golf pro, I go to work finding one for my brother.


My brother is a painfully slow putter. He gets down on his hands and knees multiple times to study the green’s slopes and valleys to plot the ball’s course into the cup. So I always take my smartphone with me and read. I read an entire novel once, playing 18 holes with him. Today, I decide to research who the CDC considers vaccine worthy.


After reading many pages carefully, I finally stumble upon a thirty-page document made publicly available in 2009 and titled PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL SUPPORT FOR ESSENTIAL SERVICE WORKERS DURING AN INFLUENZA PANDEMIC. Being a forward-thinking institution, the CDC must have created a committee to address the emotional needs of ‘the essential’ during a crisis. You, too, may read the document here, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It is full of bureaucratic psychobabble such as ‘Recommendations for the Interpandemic and Pandemic Alert Periods focus on establishing psychosocial support services and workforce resiliency programs…’ The good news is that the people that produce these essential documents are all considered essential. It says so on the CDC website.


Back in the golf cart, my maniacal scheme to get my brother vaccinated takes shape. I lean over to tell him what he needs to do. “Brother, you need to print out this CDC document, go to a vaccination site, wave the document in their face and demand to be vaccinated immediately.”


“Explain to them that there is no one more essential than those who provide psychological and emotional support for those who are providing essential services. Bro, you are at the top of the food chain. Tell them that you’re a ‘resiliency expert.’ The way you reached out to the golf pro is exactly what the CDC had in mind way back in 2009. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, bro!”


Finally, we reach the last hole. My brother is looking for the bottom of the cup for his golf ball to rattle in and I’m reading news headlines. “State Runs Out of Vaccine.”


Where’s my Muffin when I need him/her?

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