Another kind of “first responder’

Published 9:00 am Saturday, December 24, 2022

What a beautiful sight it was.

The truck that pulled up in front of my house was taller than my house. The two men inside said they were about to start clearing away the debris from the terrible storm so they could then work to restore power to us and our neighbors.

After a couple of days without power, we were eager to get it back. Crews had been working tirelessly all around, and had finally made it to our neck of the woods.

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Something I noticed that day was the attitudes of people. The men who arrived were polite and eager to do what they were trained for and skilled at doing. That was not surprising.

What really surprised me was how grateful the residents of our community were for the help. I hadn’t heard them complain at all. They knew others were affected by the storm, too, and needed assistance just as much or more than we did.

Let me clarify — my neighbors were nice people. But what you hear so often in times like that is incessant complaining. Why weren’t we higher on the list to get help? What’s taking so long? And so on.

You know what happens so often when storms or drastic weather changes occur? The ground contracts, expands and shifts. This can cause cracks and holes in roadways, and underground water and utility lines to break. You don’t have to drive through the Yukon — and have a picnic lunch while you wait for a highway crew to basically build a new road because the tundra shifted and took a section of highway 50 yards east — to see this. Though I have.

You can experience it in Southwest Mississippi, too.

Who repairs those? Our city and county utility workers — both public and private employees. They are the “first responders” of utility damage.

Repairs take time, money, and back-breaking labor. But they do it, often in rough conditions.

On one of my final exams in college, the professor had the following bonus question: What is the name of the woman who cleans our classroom?

I knew it, and a couple other students did, but most did not. This woman came in right after our class dismissed each day and emptied the trash. I made it a point to speak to her and learn her name. We didn’t learn a lot about each other that semester, but our exchanges always brought smiles to us both, along with inquiries about our days and families. I was raised to believe everyone is equal and valuable, and to treat them as if they were worth even more.

Yes, she was an employee of the school. It was her job, and she was expected to do it and do it well. But why couldn’t she be appreciated for it, too?

Like those two guys who rolled into my neighborhood years ago to get us moving back toward power, our utility workers need to know we appreciate them.

Take a moment when you see them and tell them. It just might make their day, and yours.