Friday, July 31, 2020

Ajax and EMTs

I watched a Theater of War event for Zoom last night: dramatic readings from Sophocles’s Ajax followed by a discussion among EMS providers. The actors: Chad Coleman (Ajax), Amy Ryan (Tecmessa), and Anthony Almojera (Chorus). You may know Coleman and Ryan as Cutty and Beadie from The Wire. Almojera is an FDNY parademic. All three read with great power and pathos.

Things I learned: EMTs are woefully underpaid. Their careers tend to be short, with people moving out after a few years. Unlike, say, firefighters, EMTs get little recognition. One participant told a story of a team bringing someone back from death (literally) at a fire, then finding that only the firefighters on the scene were honored at a ceremony. Why? The EMTs couldn’t be spared — too many calls.

It’s all at least loosely related to Sophocles’s Ajax, whom I’ve begun to think of as a quintessential essential worker. He does what needs to be done, giving his all. His community’s survival depends on his effort. His sense of honor runs deep. When he is denied the reward he believes is due him (the dead Achilles’s armor), his sense of betrayal runs just as deep. After an episode of berserking, he reassures his spear-bride Tecmessa and his son that all will be well and walks away to fall on his sword.

Something I thought about after this event: the question “How are you?” One participant said the question prompted a colleague to think about what it really felt like to work amidst a pandemic. Another participant suggested that the question can be dangerous for someone unprepared to offer an honest response. Me, I think it’s probably better to ask. After all, someone can always choose to answer in a perfunctory way. See also “Are you okay?” — a question I found helpful through many years of teaching.

These are times in which we should all be asking one another how we’re doing, and if we’re okay.

comments: 2

Zhoen said...

Are you ok? Should I send a postcard?

Michael Leddy said...

I’m okay. Some days are better than others. Walking, reading, writing all help. Looking toward November helps, though the election is bound to come with all kinds of problems.

How are you?