Herald Journal Columns
June 5, 2006, Herald Journal

The cost of comfort


We Americans aren’t as tough as we used to be.

I was reminded of this on Monday, while attending Memorial Day ceremonies in local communities.

The unseasonably warm weather led some people to complain about the heat, and many people sought refuge in the shade.

As I listened to the names of the deceased veterans, I thought about all of the men and women who have served their country under circumstances that were far from ideal.

They have served in the sand and heat of scorching deserts. They have worked through the snow and ice of frigid winters. They have put up with rough terrain and hostile forces to give us the right to complain about the weather at home.

It is not just members of the military who have endured harsh conditions.

The pioneers who built this country worked hard and long, without the conveniences that many of us take for granted today.

Even today, there are people working in jobs that require them to toil under conditions that most of us would not want to endure.

We are entering the summer storm season. When severe weather knocks out power, there are people who are called out in the worst and most dangerous conditions to restore service.

We might complain about the inconvenience of being without power, but do we ever consider the people who literally have to risk their lives to repair the system?

There are people in all of the emergency services, including law enforcement, medicine, and fire protection, who are called out in all conditions.

Winter or summer, even when we might be tucked up safe in our homes, we expect these people to be available at a moment’s notice to get out and get the job done.

Driving an ambulance through a blizzard, or on icy streets, may be more excitement than many of us would care to take on.

Fighting a house fire while wearing heavy turn-out gear on a 100-degree summer day is probably no picnic, either.

In smaller communities, firefighters and first responders are often volunteers. Their token compensation in no way reflects their service to their communities. They are on-call day and night, never knowing what kind of situation they will face next.

We expect them to be there when we need them, but do we stop to consider the sacrifices they make to provide the services we take for granted?

There are others who may play a less dramatic role, but who work in unpleasant conditions for our benefit.

In this age of immediate, electronic communication, we often complain about “snail mail,” and the time it takes to get letters or packages.

But, if we stop to consider it, it is a logistical miracle that mail and package delivery systems work as quickly and efficiently as they do.

These people, too, have to endure summer heat, winter cold, and the odd ferocious canine, to get the job done.

There are many other people who work in all conditions to do things for our benefit, whether it is to repair our roads, or fix our roofs, or any of the other things we take for granted.

As Americans, it is our right to complain. Many people have fought and died to preserve that right for us.

In Minnesota especially, complaining about the weather is one of the things that we love about our state.

Apart from about a week in the spring and a week in the fall, it is either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too windy, or too still for us, and we love to talk about it.

But even though it is our right to complain, we would do well, the next time we are lounging in air-conditioned comfort with a cool drink in our hands, to think about those who don’t have it so easy.

We might even want to thank these people for the work they do.

It is because of them that we are able to enjoy the comfort and convenience that contribute to our quality of life, and, in some cases, it is their sacrifices that preserve our right to complain about it.

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