Responding to

"Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." 

Marcel Proust
We need friends. We need community. Friendship is part of our nature and it's what helps drive us to form community.

We look to our friends for support and guidance and they can make us feel whole and connected. Yet, with growing and deepening political divides and a deadly worldwide pandemic, keeping friendships alive can be fraught with obstacles.

The coronavirus has been a significant point of contention for many friendships. Disagreements bubble up over the extent to which many of us are going to maintain various safety protocols. For some, disagreements stem from individuals' reluctance or unwillingness to maintain any safety protocols at all. Friendships and family relationships are feeling the strain.

Social media doesn't help. What we believe about COVID-19 and how we act, whether it's based on science, advice from others, or social media postings, can cause more than one relationship to unravel. Added to the dilemma is that people are concealing their COVID behavior, as this study from the Journal of Health Psychology reported back in August. The survey asked 451 individuals, ages 20 to 82, if they have concealed physical distancing practices, COVID-19 symptoms, and quarantine instructions, as well as how they evaluated others’ COVID-19 concealment. "Those who had contracted the virus, those younger in age, and those less communally oriented were significantly more likely to conceal their COVID-19 behaviors and evaluate concealment behaviors more positively." So, not only are our relationships being challenged by the pandemic, we can't necessarily trust what others are telling us about their own behaviors and how they may be putting us at risk.

Still, we need to figure out ways to navigate through the challenges and hang onto the friendships that matter. Friendships, and especially long-term friendships, add colour to our lives. They're the friends who are with us at our most important events, cheering us on, because they love us and they want the best for us. As Stephen Sondheim, the composer and lyricist reminds us, "But us, old friend, what’s to discuss, old friend? Here's to us. Who's like us? Damn few."
As the lyrics allude, friendships involve a certain amount of emotional intimacy. But we tend to think of them as also requiring some degree of physical proximity to feel "real." With COVID, grabbing lunch together, hosting dinner parties, going on trips to the park, going out for a drink, going shopping together, in short, just about every type of partnered activity, is off the table. But the pandemic has also released us from the expectation that closeness requires physical proximity. Instead, we now have the opportunity to find other ways for friendships to flourish. Those lessons could strengthen our relationships now, and could help us later on.

Here are some suggestions, taken in part from the on-line publication Psychologies, for how to keep friendships alive. The article is actually focused on keeping long-distance friendships vibrant. Many of our local friendships feel like they're long-distance these days, though, so the suggestions are surprisingly on-point.

The first is to commit. Make time to pick up the phone, email or text to keep up with each other’s lives. It’s important to recognize milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries, or accomplishments. Especially now, it's vital to give each other support and encouragement.

The second suggestion is to personalize our communication. Social media doesn't cut it. It's important to find personal ways of communicating. As a kid, I remember my sisters spending hours on the phone, gossiping with their girlfriends. Those long phone conversations seem like a relic from a distant past. Letter writing also seems to be a lost art but when I receive a letter or card in the mail these days, I feel like I've received a gift. And sending cards and letters doesn't have to be limited to cross country correspondence. They can also be sent across town.

Until we can create new memories through shared experiences, we need to keep our shared old memories alive. They can also help us plan for new adventures once it's again possible.

Stay focused on each other's lives. Everybody has stuff going on and talking about even the most mundane things can have a huge impact on boosting another person's morale. A friend recently bought a new television that ended up being much larger than she had imagined. The thirty minute telephone conversation we shared about her challenges finding a home for her new "beast" was hysterical. The silly details often matter most.

Finally, be honest with each other. COVID has robbed us of many things, people, and possibilities. Our shared loss of time together is one of the casualties and may dramatically change our relationships with each other. It's important to acknowledge the changes.

Friendships and social connections are as important to our health as proper diet and exercise. Research has linked social bonding to longer lives, lower incidence of depression and anxiety, and reduced risk of disease. "Our brains and bodies function best when we are part of a community and maintain close, personal connections," according to Dr. William S. Pollack, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Navigating the pandemic has meant stress, fear, anxiety, grief, loneliness, and confusion for all of us. It has challenged our beliefs, our values, and our close personal relationships in ways none of us could have ever imagined. But our friends are some of the most important resources we have to help combat the hardships. They help give our lives meaning and continuity. It's critical we keep finding ways to stay connected, even if it is "virtually."

Thank you for hanging in there. And thank you for doing everything you can to keep yourself and others as safe and as healthy as possible.

In gratitude,
Thank you for all your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.
Red to Green Framework

Last Wednesday, the state began using a "tiered framework" for reopening businesses, based on each county's prevalence of COVID-19. 

Under the "Red-to-Green" system, counties with lower test positivity and per-capita infections will operate under fewer restrictions. Changes in restrictions will be based on public health data, which will be updated every other Wednesday. As of December 2, only San Miguel County is categorized as yellow. All other counties are red. Santa Fe County's test positivity rate is 15.5%, well above the targeted 5% rate. The next update will be December 16.

To learn more about the system or to see the status of any county, click here