In April 2020, I arrogantly published a blog titled, “Community in the Time of Coronavirus.” We were so new to what has dragged on for more than two years now, I think I even misspelled the virus' name in my first draft. In the blog, I interviewed a wise friend and life coach for her advice, which was basically:
...have grace on yourself and focus on doing what works best for your own small tribe.
And I have seen that friend once since that interview.
I want to share a handful of Covid stories, not because I think they’re unique, but because I think they aren’t. I want to share them because I suspect we are all reeling as the pandemic numbers wane, and we are left with fragments of our previous communities, wondering what we should pick up and what we should let go. I don’t have a list of tips this time. I myself am wondering what to do next. Perhaps you’ll see a pattern in these stories, or see yourself, or have an inspired response and you'll share your wisdom with all of us.
Or perhaps there is no response. We’re all getting used to that, too, I suppose.
J— and I met at summer camp which brought us together as teens summer after summer. We were young, full of endless energy, laughter and goofiness beyond reason. Our lives took us to different corners of the globe but social media reconnected us as adults, and I learned she was moving to the Denver area with two year old twins and a newborn. We were happy together again amid all the chaos of babies, potty training, sleep training and general motherhood training.
All that was years ago. She called me at the beginning of the pandemic to see if our family would be part of their family’s small circle of friends. That early phase of the pandemic felt a little like a game of musical chairs. The music had ended but instead of scrambling for a chair, we were all trying to figure out who we were going to hang out with in order to survive the shutdown but limit our exposure to the virus. Some families lived in cul-de-sacs with other young families and fell into tribes that way, some formed pods with their children’s classmates and hired mentors to get their children through Zoom-school while they continued their own work online. We found ourselves having these conversations left and right as our life was filled with so many wonderful people we couldn’t image leaving outside our circle.
I would like to say I handled these conversations with grace and care for all those precious relationships, but as with any scramble—literal or figurative—there wasn’t much grace or care involved.
Thoughtlessly, I told J— that we had already selected a couple of families who lived a bit closer. It just didn’t seem practical to be part of their circle. I never considered what it felt like to hear those words.
I called her in the following months. I couldn’t understand why she seemed distant and uninterested. I wondered why she was pulling away. It wasn’t until a full year later that she finally explained the hurt I had caused and that she understood our friendship to be over. I was shocked. I couldn’t imagine how my words and actions had communicated that.
Just one example of community in the time of Covid.
L— and S—
These two stories come as a set because they are both friends of mine who started a business together prior to the start of the pandemic. Covid moved so many activities onto Zoom, and their practice fit neatly into that category. They found their business thriving despite the challenging times, and they have both recently decided to move--one to Wisconsin, one to Mexico--and will continue to share their business but work remotely.
What is the proper send-off for a 10 year and a 20 year friendship? These friendships have grown and deepened amid a broader tight knit community that developed over the years as folks settled into homes in Golden, got married, had children, moved to other suburbs, and shared the grief of deaths, divorces, and the tragic shit that life throws at you when you stick around long enough.
A community that ultimately dissolved because of pandemic restrictions.
Do I call for a gathering? Who would I include? Who is actually still friends and who is comfortable hanging out?
In the end, I did almost nothing, and I know that L— and S— felt the silence surrounding their departures. We have forgotten how to gather, how to hold sacred spaces for each other in times of transitions or pain.
Which leads to my final story…
Our church went online like many others when the pandemic started. We foolishly posted that on the sign out front, and our building was broken into twice during the winter of ‘20-21.
We’re not big on the formal sacraments; we usually take our communion in the form of doughnuts and coffee after church—something that hasn’t happened for two years now.
When the pandemic numbers first declined last summer, we went to a hybrid service. About half the group attends via Zoom and half in-person. On a recent Sunday this March with a fresh snow falling as we opened the church doors, the number of attendees was exactly the number of participants with specific roles: the pastor and his family, the nursery volunteer, the ushers, the Sunday School teachers, etc.
It’s safe to say: it wasn’t just Covid that was keeping folks at home.
Meetings are being held now about whether to stop offering Zoom as an option. Some are for it, some against. The pandemic numbers are down, but will they stay down? What about those for whom Zoom makes church possible when they normally wouldn’t come?
Who will be in my children’s Sunday School class besides the teacher and my children?
Just another example of community in the time of Covid.
If you feel alone, I feel you.
If you feel uncertain about where to begin, I feel you.
If you feel a little numb...well, I feel you, too.
Holly Freeman is a Denver Area Photographer with a passion for healthy communities and families. She specializes in family portraits, relaxed photo experiences and products that help families celebrate their love for years into the future. Click here to learn more about the process.