Online shopping has soared in the wake of COVID-19, boosting e-commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart, and creating record growth for UPS and FedEx. While some question the moral legitimacy of these gains, others celebrate the market’s ability to respond to complex demands, innovating products and adapting supply chains to meet countless human needs.
Yet we should also remember that such businesses are not mere machines to be retooled, adjusted, and manipulated for materialistic purposes. Fundamentally, businesses are organisms and ecosystems for relationship and creative cooperation. Likewise, the workers who achieve these ends are pursuing their individual callings, serving neighbors in distinct and meaningful ways that pave the way for human fellowship.
For one community in Midlothian, Virginia, the pandemic brought this reality to light through the work of their UPS delivery driver. Anthony Gaskin faithfully served their neighborhood through the darkest days of the crisis, often delivering more than 180 packages in a single day. “Anthony Gaskin is considered a hero in the Hallsley neighborhood,” writes WTVR’s Scott Wise. “During the pandemic, his daily deliveries have been life-saving, both literally and figuratively, to the Midlothian neighbors.”
In response, more than 100 neighbors rallied together to publicly celebrate the driver, waiting outside and in parked cars to cheer, hold signs, and honk as Gaskin completed his route. “I wasn’t quite sure what was going on at first,” Gaskin told ABC News. “It felt like my heart was going to jump out of my body. To tell you the truth, I’m not used to that kind of attention. So it was a total surprise.”
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It’s yet another example of how the pandemic has reminded us of the dignity and purpose behind jobs that our cultural institutions have traditionally denigrated or dismissed as being somehow secondary. Such jobs are now being designated as “essential,” and their work is rightly praised. But their value goes well beyond meeting tangible needs.
When one peruses the many emails sent from grateful neighbors, it is immediately evident that Gaskin’s work had social and spiritual meaning, as well:
“Through COVID, Anthony has continued working, delivering packages at our doors, record numbers of them, over 180 times to date,” Hallsley neighbor Patty Friedman wrote in an email. “I wanted to thank him personally for how much he helped me feel welcome when I moved in during a pandemic. It was terribly lonely and he was always the highlight of my day. Mentioning this to a few people and the response I got was all I needed to know I was not alone.” …
“Anthony always delivers our packages with a wave and a smile,” one appreciative neighbor wrote about the UPS driver. “Sometimes he is the only outside face we see during the day. We appreciate his hard work and dedication during the pandemic, which delivered food, supplies, and even holiday gifts to a high-risk family.”
“Anthony always smiles, waves, and goes above and beyond to deliver packages with care,” another neighbor wrote. “He makes you feel like a friend when you see him. He brightens our day, whenever he drops off a package, which is frequently at our house! He stands out from ALL other delivery drivers and we love him! Cheers to Anthony!”
“Thank you Anthony for all you do,” a third neighbor added. “My six-year-old daughter hasn’t seen either set of grandparents in over a year. This has been very hard on everyone. Many of the packages you deliver are from them. The joy the packages bring makes it worthwhile. Thank you for always delivering them with a kind smile and a friendly wave!”
Our economic imaginations tend to focus on the bigger-picture, consumer-centric outputs — the services rendered, the products created, the packages delivered. But behind these efforts are countless other components, supported by myriads of people with profound creative potential, each striving to meet each other’s needs through innovation, hard work, and basic economic exchange.
As a result, our work is inevitably personal, relational, and communal — an opportunity to manifest our social natures as human persons, working with God and co-creating alongside our neighbor. As Lester DeKoster writes in Work: The Meaning of Your Life:
The fabric of civilization, like all fabrics, is made up of countless tiny threads — each thread the work of someone. … We are daily providing the threads which join with innumerable others in making civilized life possible. Consider … the furniture around you. It’s congealed work — and worker. Countless hands fashioned it all along the way from raw material to finished product. Our homes are furnished because there is a tightly woven fabric of civilization, or there would be no chair, no sofa, no table, and no car, no street, nothing at all. What civilizes our world is the fact that work is done.
Somewhere in the whole mosaic of goods and services our work is being done too. My chair would be no more useful were it autographed by every hand that gave something to its creation! I can use it simply because everyone did their job. … The mosaic of culture, like all mosaics, derives its beauty from the contribution of each tiny bit.
In such a way, delivery truck drivers like Gaskin thread the fabric of civilization, serving his community, contributing to the common good, and glorifying God. And so it goes for the rest of us, regardless of our roles, our industries, or our customers.
The extent to which we embrace such a calling is in our own two hands. In our everyday economic encounters and exchanges, what if we were to recognize this significance and respond like both Gaskin and those Midlothian neighbors — engaging in all of our economic relationships with love, joy, grace, and gratitude?
In learning to reimagine something as seemingly simple as package delivery, perhaps we can more fully honor the contributions of all workers, which will make that civilizational fabric stronger and sturdier. The next time the UPS truck rolls around, as we listen to its stops and starts, perhaps we can look beyond the parcel on the doorstep and wave. We can remember that business can sometimes be big, but it’s always personal.
Rather than taking for granted the blessings of economic freedom, we can respond with honor, gratitude, and celebration of the creative services rendered by the workers and enterprises themselves, and for the countless contributions they bring to civilization.