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As the pandemic drags on, we should continue to avoid gatherings. But there are other ways to show people you care.

PMG PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - We've been getting more comfortable with videoconferencing as a way to keep in touch during the coronavirus pandemic. Even still, it's not the only way.Let's face it: At the end of a year like this one — a year, in fact, like none other — we really, really need the holidays.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule or some combination of this month's notable festivities, and whatever your tradition of celebrating, the holidays are a time for people to come together and take joy in one another's company.

Unfortunately, that looks like a dicey proposition this year. COVID-19 case counts remain at alarming levels, with public health experts warning that Thanksgiving gatherings may further inflame the situation. The best thing we can do to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to stop gathering, or at least to gather in smaller numbers and less frequently, ideally with people we know and trust to be doing what they can to limit their exposure risk — although even that is no guarantee.

So, what can we do?

Many families have turned to Zoom and other videoconferencing technology. This is an admittedly imperfect solution, especially for the introverts among us — two hours in front of a webcam often feels less organic and comfortable than a freeform family get-together, with its attendant food and beverages — but it is a way to connect at a time when human interaction is tough to come by.

Considering the well-publicized transmission risk posed by singing together in a shared physical space, we can imagine Zoom caroling coming into vogue this month as a way to sing together in a virtual, safely distanced setting.

There are other, less appointment-based ways to connect during the holidays. While the tradition of holiday greeting cards has waned a little bit in recent years, this seems like the perfect occasion for a revival. Many families already send out a yearly holiday greeting to friends and family. If you don't, this would be a great year to start.

For those who celebrate Christmas and the advent season, there are any number of online advent calendars to enjoy and share. Taking a moment every day to open today's calendar and see what's inside can be a great shared experience, whether you keep it up on your own — knowing there are hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of other people doing it as well — or you make it something to share with family, a little way to celebrate the holiday season together without needing to be in the same place.

Many households will scale back their gift-giving this year, whether for logistical or financial reasons.

If you need to save your pennies to pay bills and rent, that's nothing to be ashamed of. The shame is that Salem and Washington, D.C., have not done enough to protect people's livelihoods during a time when normal economic activity is impossible, whether we're in a declared "lockdown" or not.

The coronavirus bears the responsibility for our economic downturn. Businesses are struggling because of the pandemic, not because of Gov. Kate Brown or her advisors. But it's the responsibility of the government to recognize that people are suffering and need some support, and that serving people is a bigger priority than scoring political points or satisfying special interests.

If you do have the means, we encourage you to give gifts — not just to people who will give gifts in return, but to the people who cannot. A little something can go a long way. It's not just a "thing," it's a measure of love and care at a time we could all use a lot of love and care.

Give to charity, also, if you're able. Many nonprofit organizations are working hard to fill in the gaps created both by the pandemic and congressional inaction. Even some local students have taken the initiative, whether it's providing a free grocery delivery service to people stuck in their homes, like Westview High School student Neel Jain, or making "COVID Candies" to raise money for charitable groups, like Oregon Episcopal School student Hudson Hale. Many groups across the Westside, like St. Vincent de Paul, the Columbia Pacific Food Bank and the Foundation for Tigard Tualatin Schools, have stepped up as well.

Connecting with others in the spirit of the holidays doesn't have to be a big commitment, either.

What about friends you haven't really talked to since March, or relatives you haven't seen? Give them a call, or maybe better yet, text them. Maybe you don't have anything to talk about and you feel like your life's become pretty boring without date nights or club activities or dinner parties. Maybe you'll find something else to talk about that you didn't even know was on your mind. No matter what, it's good just to say hello and ask, "How have you been?"

Online gaming is more popular than ever, with games like "Among Us" and "Fortnite" specifically designed to be played over the internet with friends. Many of these titles are actually free to play, so they're accessible to anyone with an internet connection. If you're unfamiliar with these games and a little wary of trying something new, there is no shortage of livestreams and gameplay available for viewing on YouTube, Twitch and other video platforms, so check them out and see if any of them seem like something you and your friends or family members would enjoy.

And while big holiday dinners with extended family aren't a good option with the current rate of community spread, you can still share a meal with loved ones. If you have the means to make a hearty, homecooked meal for multiple people this holiday season, consider boxing up portions and dropping them off at friends, relatives or neighbors' homes. It's another way we can share an experience without sharing the virus, and for the many people who have had to tighten their belts this year, it might be appreciated more than you know.

While this isn't the holiday season we hoped to have, we can still celebrate the season the way it should be celebrated: with human connection. If you love someone, you want to keep them safe, so show your love by finding a way to connect with them while giving the virus no opportunity to spread.

This pandemic will not last forever, but for years to come, we will remember and treasure these gestures, these expressions of love in the time of coronavirus, these choices we make now to tell each other: "You are not alone. You are important to me. You are cared for."


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