Live United: Remember, we are all in this together this holiday season

Published 8:13 pm Friday, October 30, 2020

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Live United by Erin Haag


With the exception of school decisions, about mid-June is when I found myself facing most days with peace with the pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of feelings about it, but at the center of it is a sort of peace. It is what it is, and I’ll do my part. As we move into winter and the holiday season, I feel the anxiety creeping up again though.

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We need to experience joy and traditions. We need to social distance and wear masks. How can we deal with this paradox?

Erin Haag

In a recent meeting, community leaders discussed the difficulty of asking our community to give up the traditions they’ve experienced. We fully recognize what is being asked, and we’re experiencing the same difficult decisions. How can we safely celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that is, at it’s core, about gathering together? How can we risk it? This is not how we do community. “I love you, but I’m not going to come see you.”

We need both joy and social distance. We need to look for the good. We need to do what we can.

Sue Yost, our Public Health director, shared a conversation she had with her mother about the upcoming holiday. She mentioned the differing perspectives of being a daughter, being part of a family — and being a Public Health director, knowing the risk, knowing the complications.

That’s the ultimate paradox. Each of us approach this pandemic with different perspectives. Experts are trained to approach community issues in the context of their expertise. They’re in their fields because they’ve found a passion, and they genuinely believe in its importance. Except — there’s so many fields of experts in this pandemic. Educators, health care professionals, first responders, mental health experts, special education, disability advocates.

So who do we listen to?

Every day I listen to an expert in one area, and I fail in another. I celebrate the wins, but feel I failed at another. Have a meeting — socially distant, using masks, but still gathering in person? It’s a celebration in my book, because it was about developing a program to bring food access to seniors. Yet, it’s more people who have come into contact with me, and more people who will have to be notified if I should realize I had symptoms. I won. I failed. Each day we’re reacquainting ourselves with the needs of our society. Each day we’re making a compromise between containment, mental health, education, public safety.

No matter what your decisions are on the spectrum of low- to high-risk of activities, there are simple things we can do. Wear a mask and social distance. In person or virtually, it’s a simple thing that when combined, can have a powerful ripple effect.

Last week, my children came to work with me for a bit. They helped me sanitize the room where NAMI, a mental health support group, meets each week. I explained to them why it was important that NAMI meets, even though we’re social distancing and wearing masks.

A couple of days later, I walked into our conference room, and there on the whiteboard, my daughter had drawn a large heart, with the words, “We’re in this together.” That was her message to the support group.

We’re ALL fatigued. Our health care and community leaders are facing the same paradox everyone else is. 

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember there are safe ways to celebrate. We’re not trick-or-treating, but we’re getting a fun jack-o’-lantern pizza from Papa Murphy’s. A sweet friend dropped off fun cupcakes at my office for my children. We’re discussing ways to get Grandma and Grandpa technology they can handle, so we can video chat with them. My children have come up — all on their own — a plan for staging a Christmas pageant and asked if I’d be willing to record them.

Community leaders are looking for ways to share positive stories and celebrate the good. Focus on the good, focus on the ways we can live united, focus on sharing the joy of the holiday season — safely. We’re in this together.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.