Can we all let out a big collective sigh together? Then take another breath in, another breath out.
It seems like over the last week — well, less than a week — that’s what we’ve been needing to do. Just take one breath at a time.
We’ve gone from having toilet paper, potatoes, canned goods and cereal (my personal vice) stocked plentiful on the shelves in our local grocery and department stores to virtually none within a reasonable driving distance. We’ve gone from school sporting events and musical performances to an uncertainty about what the rest of the school year will hold; Things like, for high school students, will I get to have a prom? Or for teachers, what does it mean to teach 25 third graders in a distance learning situation? We’ve gone from being able to go out to eat at our favorite restaurants or catch a movie on a whim to seeing those businesses shuttered or offering reduced services. We’ve gone from gathering together for church services, birthday parties, bridal and baby showers, and vacations both domestic and abroad — to none. For many of you, you've gone from having a job, to not. And it all happened so fast.
And in the wake of all this emptiness, both literal and figurative, is a sense of anxiety and grief.
I’ve had many conversations over the past week with many of you about what you’re thinking and feeling. In most of those conversations a week ago, we were joking about how much toilet paper one family can need. In most of those conversations now, we’re collectively discussing our amazement, befuddlement, and genuine concern over the state of our lives.
It’s hard to process all that’s happening right now, let alone anticipate what this means for our future, both as individuals and as a global society. There are a lot of unknowns right now. There are a lot of sacrifices we’re making. The effects of it all are overwhelming and scary. And I — nor anyone else — can really tell you exactly what this all means right now.
Here’s what I can tell you.
During the Red River flood of 1997 in Grand Forks, in which my extended family suffered flooding of their home, I saw family and friends offer everything they could to help. Whether that meant hours of little sleep and backbreaking work sandbagging against the floodwaters, or helping my aunt sift through water- and soil-logged family memorabilia as she tried to salvage what she could.
During this past summer’s tornado that slammed Forest Lake and Scandia residents, I saw community members sacrifice time, space, and money to help those who were hit. From a neighbor offering their house and yard to host a wedding reception last minute to teenagers who helped area residents for hours chop up downed trees and pick up shattered glass in the yard.
Following 9/11, I saw a wave of emotional and financial support toward families who had loved ones missing, from offering to bring meals, pay for travel, or to just sit with each other and cry together.
This is one of those times. It seems big and scary, and I don’t know what is to come. But I do know one thing for sure: People have a great capacity to come together in a time of crisis, and that’s no different right now than in every difficult time before. Neighbors are offering to do grocery runs for those homebound. Teenagers and college students home on break are offering to babysit for parents who still have to go to work — or even may have to work from home, but need the space to do so. People are finding ways to support local businesses. Area restaurants, who are likely hurting financially themselves, are donating food for children in need. Local leaders, including pastors, business owners, and other city leaders, are offering anything they think others might need.
John F. Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural address, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” If you are someone who is able to help, there are ways in which you can do so. Check in on those neighbors, even if virtually or have a conversation through a door. Send letters to nursing home residents. Call your grandma with knock-knock jokes handy. Maybe even give up a roll or two of toilet paper.
If you’re someone that’s in need, please remember that while it may feel like a humbling thing to admit you need help, that is where the greatest love is felt, and there are people — from church members to area residents — who genuinely want to help you and care for you.
One last thing: I promise you, I’m not going anywhere. In the midst of all that’s happening, I’m here with you. In the issues to come, we will share our sorrows and losses together, and there will be times we will rejoice together, too. That’s what a community does for each other, and that’s what we’ll endeavor to do here at The Times.
Together, friends, we will make it through this — one breath at a time.
Hannah Davis is the news editor of the Forest Lake Times. If you have a story you’d like to share, whether it’s COVID-19 related or not, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.