WASHINGTON (CNS) – Before Juan Vásquez says goodbye to his wife, Tanya Granillo de Vásquez, and 1-year-old son, Robert, to go to work each morning, the three gather and then the husband and wife pray.
“Faith is what’s important at this moment,” said Tanya Vásquez. “We give thanks and then we ask for protection … I ask that he (Juan) be returned to us as he left, to come home to a family that waits for him.”
In the age of the coronavirus, grocery workers like Juan Vasquez of Uniondale, N.Y., a Long Island hamlet about 30 miles east of New York City, have become unlikely heroes around the globe, lifelines to the outside world for many. They protect quick access to food and products that are essential to daily survival – a role that, like those of agricultural workers, was never celebrated until a virus brought the world to a halt.
It was a role that never seemed dangerous – until the coronavirus arrived.
“They’re not just exposing their lives to help other people, but they’re also doing their best to not expose (their families),” Tanya Vasquez March 28.
Because she and her husband are Catholic and have a special devotion to Mary, they ask for her intercession, not just to keep Juan free of the COVID-19 disease caused by coronavirus, but also for the protection of the whole family. Prayer and faith are their only weapons to survive the painful and anxiety-driven day that has become normal for them now, Tanya said.
Every night when Juan returns home from work, she makes him put his shoes inside a bag at the bottom of a stairwell before he walking up to their apartment in his socks. She sends him straight to the shower, putting whatever he’s been wearing that day inside another bag that is quickly closed, she said.
“It makes me very sad because our son sometimes waits for him by the window and can see him come home from there,” she said. “He jumps up and down when he sees him, but now (Juan) can’t go directly to him or me. No hug, no kiss. He goes straight to the shower.”
It’s become almost a somber experience, one filled with worries about the current dangers of the outside world getting in, and a change of routine for the toddler who’s attached to his father, she said.. But once he’s finished taking a long shower, her husband makes every effort to “return to normalcy” with their son and plays or watches TV with him, she said.
“It’s a complicated situation and people don’t understand that anguish,” she said.
It’s an anguish that lasts throughout the day. Even his break, an innocuous moment before the virus, now can be a cause for worry, Tanya Vasquez said. Sometimes, her husband calls during his break at work, telling her that the market is full of people that day, or that he was nervous because someone touched him, got too close or tugged on his sleeve to ask a question, , she said.
Vasquez said she regrets heeding authorities’ early instructions about not hoarding masks or other protective gear so that it would be available for health workers. Having protection for her husband now would have lessened her worries, but such items since have sold out.
Luckily, the store where he works offered the workers gloves. And because she knows how to sew, she was able to make a mask for him, though she fears it may not offer enough protection.
Ironically, because her husband works in a market, the two had a discussion about not hoarding food and other materials so that there would be enough for everyone in their community. That, too, worked against them. So, he keeps an eye out for items that are scarce and picks them up if he sees them on his way home. But they still refuse to hoard, she said.
Despite her worries, Tanya s stills believes that powerful intercession from above will help the family get through, though the looming fear that Juan will contract the virus and worse, bring it home, is constant.
Economically, the family couldn’t survive without his job, she said, which is a hard reality to gulp down because she would love nothing more than to see her husband enjoy this time with family, particularly with his son, who would be “overjoyed” to have his father home.
“This is very complicated,” she said. “to watch other people safe at home while others aren’t. To me, people like my husband, and I’m talking about a lot of people, are heroes because they’re putting their lives at risk.
“And then there are people out there on the street (for no good reason), without a conscience, while others are forced to leave their families to help,” she added. “If (people) have the blessing to have free time, all I ask is that they realize that during that outing, they could contract that virus and harm others. I ask that they not be selfish and to think of others.”