My accountant was trying to get her Internet to connect. She hadn’t been in the office in a while, as she had worked at home like many others for the past few months. While we waited, she fiddled with her mask and joked about the heat but started explaining that she knew why wearing the mask was important. There had been several deaths in her family, back in the Navajo Nation up north.
Most of her family is still there, she said. She spoke the way people do when they need to, when the words just roll out. She explained that she had received updates through phone calls from her sister, who is still back home and works in the medical field.
When the Navajo Nation Department of Health would close the reservations the next few weekends, tens of thousands of people would go out to nearby towns to get supplies. Her sister, only able to shop after work, would find only empty shelves.
My accountant leaned forward and waved toward the grocery store we could see out of her window. She said, “I told her I could go out and buy the things she couldn’t find and bring them to her.”
When word got out of her offer, several requests came from back home. And when coworkers and friends heard what she was doing, her office started to fill up.
“I had stacks of toilet paper that I was collecting to bring up,” she said with a laugh. “People would give me $5 to help me buy a pack, and when I had enough toilet paper, I bought other things. Turns out $5 buys a lot of soap.”
She and her husband rented a van and drove up with some extra money to buy meat closer to home.
“That’s really all I can do to help: pray, wear a mask and bring the things they need,” she said.
Navajo Nation, 27,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, has a population of about 173,000. It has seen nearly 8,000 cases of COVID-19. As of July 8, there had been 386 known deaths. And while New Mexico is currently at around 14,000 cases, just two counties that are part of the Nation have seen more than 6,000 cases.
The drive my accountant made to the chapter house — an administrative and community building — to make her deliveries was potentially a five-hour drive.
She had a certain amount of fear, especially when she stopped to purchase the meat, because she had heard of slurs being tossed out to people she knew from the reservation implying Native Americans were bringing the disease. Her voice caught in her throat momentarily.
Fred Rogers had that line about looking for the helpers. The helpers are sometimes on the sidelines, but when you see them, you know there’s hope. As I sat in front of just one helper, who struggled with her mask but carried her story, I was allowed a measure of hope.
Some days, I’m not sure I deserve that hope. There is a dark past that allows me to grow my family in the safety of this shared and stolen land.
It’s not always apparent, our interconnectivity to groups we don’t regularly interact with, especially those in more distant corners of our state.
But when we hear the stories of those doing their part, it feels more like it’s up to us to see if we can’t, somehow, help the helpers.
— Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter: @TheCMcClure. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.