By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist
I haven’t been to town for a few weeks but had to make a run for supplies on Friday. I was glad to see that everyone in the grocery store was practicing social distancing as recommended, and some were wearing face masks.
As I exited a government building in town, I heard the sounds of a piano playing. I stopped in my tracks to listen and was immediately mesmerized, listening to the beautiful music, picturing a lone pianist playing to an empty, cavernous room. I was thankful to have shared in that soothing moment, even from a distance.
That got me reflecting on the famous Fred Rogers story about when he was scared as a child, his mother would say “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
The isolated piano player was a helper, whether that person knows it or not.
During this national emergency, this unsettled and distressing time, I’m noticing helpers in every direction. Communities throughout Wyoming have COVID-19 response teams preparing and taking action to protect and respond to those in distress. It seems all first-responders and community leaders are involved in one way or another. Donations of equipment, medical supplies, food, and money are being offered up by businesses and nonprofits across the state. Volunteers for groups like The Salvation Army and Lions Club have mobilized to provide food boxes for distribution to families. Senior centers are making sure our seniors are getting fed, and seniors around the state are sewing face masks for anyone who needs them.
When I think of helpers, a certain smiling, friendly face comes to mind. That particular face is that of my late brother-in-law Bill (“Papa B”) Urbigkit of Riverton who passed away six years ago. I’ve yet to meet a more kind, helpful and community-minded person than our Papa B. His good works continue through family and friends – especially this month as we each participate in our own #payitforwardforpapab in his honor, spreading acts of kindness large and small.
People are leaving inspirational messages in chalk on sidewalks, taping hearts to their windows, and placing stuffed animals out in full view for those participating in “bear hunts.” Retired medical professionals are returning to work during the riskiest time for doing so. Neighbors are making sure that snow is shoveled from sidewalks, fixing things that need fixing, and making grocery runs for people who can’t do it themselves. Retail workers and delivery drivers are working hard to keep our families supplied with whatever we need.
Public libraries around the state are closed but have quickly adapted to providing needed services remotely, including online access to reading materials and audio files. Many libraries have public-use internet hotspots in their parking lots, and story times for children are offered online, as are continuing education events. The Wyoming State Library’s Facebook page is constantly updated with great informational sources for the public, as libraries continue to serve a diverse demographic even with their doors closed.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation is providing support in ways most of us don’t know. When a crash closed I-80 last month, WDOT provided an escort for COVID-19 supplies to be able to safely proceed during the closure. Wyoming troopers have been delivering COVID-19 testing equipment and supplies and moving test samples from hospitals and clinics to the state health lab from around the state. Think about that the next time you see a highway patrolman or get behind a WDOT snowplow.
Local law enforcement and fire organizations find themselves in lead roles in a public health crisis in addition to their regular missions. Whatever needs done, they are making sure that it gets done. Fire officials are working with federal land managers to prepare for wildland firefighting season amid a pandemic, a daunting challenge.
Now imagine being one of the staff handling unemployment claims for the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. With record numbers of claims all coming at the same time, calls to the unemployment insurance claim center (UI) have been overwhelming, but I’ve heard that once a call is answered at UI, staff members have been not just competent but caring. Kudos to them.
Local churches are organizing drive-in Easter services to bring their congregations together while practicing social distancing. Artists are continuing to create and share their work, deeply touching and connecting with people they will never meet. Blood drives are being held with special restrictions to ensure an adequate blood supply while not spreading COVID-19. Individuals with 3-D printers are constructing facemasks for healthcare workers. Others are donating meat from their freezers, delivering firewood, and doing outdoor chores.
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon deserves a special mention in all this. Criticized in equal measure for not doing enough and for doing too much, Gordon has the unenviable job of leading a state of independent-minded folks who have a general aversion to being led. Whether I agree with him on any given action, I do appreciate and thank him for his service to this great state.
As we are engulfed in bad news and distressful events, it’s increasingly important that we make everyday efforts to share the good, the beauty, in our human experience. Let’s all be helpers in some way and pay it forward with acts of kindness and compassion.
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.