During this turbulent time, it can be difficult to maintain positivity and have hope for the future. While we continue to practice social distancing to protect the health of our communities and ourselves, many of us are feeling lonely and missing our loved ones. Missing human contact is normal and completely understandable right now (and always)!

Despite the changes in the way we experience our world, we are currently presented with new ways to communicate and connect with others that many of us may not have thought of doing before. It is important to think of the people we cherish right now. It is also the perfect time to reach out to them and to pour energy into your relationships. By brightening the days of others, we can cheer ourselves up at the same time. People right here in our Stillwater community have been finding ways to do just that while still maintaining safe social distancing practices.

Last week, neighbors were thrilled to see dinosaurs running through their neighborhood; young people out to get some exercise wore inflatable dinosaur costumes to bring joy to others. Perhaps going to one of the stores that are open in a robot or other costume is a fun idea! We could use entertaining diversions right now. Or you could put Halloween costumes on your dogs to make people smile as they pass. Many people are visiting loved ones in nursing homes through windows so they can still connect. After arranging the visit with staff, they can talk on the phone to each other and play games like tic-tac-toe with painter’s tape and dry-erase markers. Bare in mind that while most of us have the freedom to go on walks outside, those in long-term care facilities are extremely limited in terms of movement within their living space. It is so important for their mental and emotional health that we find safe and frequent ways to reach out to our friends and relatives who live in these facilities.

Some people have started to make “wish jars,” into which they put all the activities they and their friends dream of doing when the stay-at-home orders are lifted. At the top of my friend Mariah’s list is to go inside Stillwater Culver’s, order a Butterburger with extra pickles and eat it in a booth. I am looking forward to feeding the giraffes at Como Zoo! Try to talk with your loved ones about experiences you are all looking forward to.

You might consider leaving a spring basket on a friend’s doorstep with flowers or some goodies. In fact, we know of some people who are writing positive messages in plastic Easter eggs and tossing them in friends’ yards. They feel happy as they imagine the surprise, thrill, and warmth the finder will feel when they open the eggs to find a note that says, “You are wonderful!”

Many people of all ages are participating in the “World of Hearts” project by creating colorful heart displays in their front windows, hospitals, and assisted living centers. If you feel creative, you could paint rocks with positive messages and designs and leave them around your neighborhood when you are out for a walk or run. Or you could draw with chalk on your driveway or sidewalk to make happy artwork. To celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or other special event, make signs with balloons and leave them outside a loved one’s house. Some people are even having drive-by birthday parties; friends arrive to joyfully honk at a certain time, drop off their gift one-by-one, and shout their birthday greetings.

Meet up with loved ones via Zoom or Skype so you can see each other’s beautiful faces and smiles. You could have a happy hour, dance party, dinner date, or movie night! To make people laugh, make funny videos to post on social media or send to friends. You never know, it might go viral!

Making handmade cards and letters is another great way to connect with people, especially those with whom we have lost touch. This is especially important for people who are alone at this time. Also, it is a great time to send thank-you cards to essential workers to support them through this stressful situation.

We all miss our favorite restaurants and employees and hope they will still be there when more businesses reopen. In the meantime, we can support them by ordering food to go and by buying gift cards, which makes them realize we share and believe in their future. At Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop, employees bring your order outside and set it on the hood of your car so there is no contact. Employees are so thankful when customers make purchases!

It is possible that focusing on the needs of others will help make the time pass faster for ourselves, too. Despite everything that is difficult about this year, we can be sure that we will emerge with more kindness, compassion, and a deeper appreciation of who and what we have in our lives. These are gifts that enable us to be optimistic about the future.

Louise Westrup is a Stillwater native and a student at the University of Minnesota.

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