What is a Village when its members cannot get together in person? A godsend to many. The coronavirus has brought the threat not only of illness but of isolation as we lose the chance to be with other people. Wider Horizons has found many ways to help its members be apart but not alone:
- “Zooming Around the Village”: Twice a week all members are invited to gather over Zoom to talk about a range of topics, from “How I’m Coping” to “Police Reform.” Expert moderators break us into small groups according to our preferences among three questions listed in advance. There is a morning session and an afternoon session. Over the weeks since these began in February, we have been surprised by the cohesion and trust that have grown among the approximately 25 regular attendees, who have become, to use member Kate Barber’s phrase, “Friends in Boxes.”
- Phone tree: With the beginning of the pandemic, our phone tree transitioned from an emergency back-up to a regular communications network that includes every member. Beginning weekly and now every two weeks, each member is called and asked how they are doing and if there is anything they need or want to talk about. One caller reported, “I told one person on my list I had gotten more out of the call than he had. He answered that it worked both ways.” One couple wrote, “The Zoom calls and phone tree implemented since the Covid-19 onset have deepened and broadened our connection with our Village friends in a beautiful way! We feel so much like a community of supportive friends.”
- Small groups over Zoom: Participants in small groups formed at all-member “Zooming Around the Village” sessions, expressed an interest in meeting regularly around some topics. That’s all it takes in Wider Horizons. The call went out for member facilitators, and at this writing groups of 5 to 8 people are forming to talk about coping with the pandemic, white privilege, and collective social action. These are in addition to the book club and long-established “pods” of members living more or less near each other (the arrangement is loose and fluid), some of whom gather regularly for conversation. Even the folks who customarily enjoyed happy hours or cooking together have found ways to continue those pleasures together.
- Information: Communication has always been central to Wider Horizons. With the pandemic, the need to seek, share, sort, and send out information grew exponentially. Carefully observing the Board policy that Wider Horizons would not dispense medical advice, Executive Director Denise Klein became the masterful clearinghouse for information of every kind, from articles about the virus itself to good take-out restaurants, and tips for movies to watch at home. To her regular Monday Morning Memo, she added a Wednesday Morning Memo focused on issues of economic, racial, and social justice that have been roiling our nation. The Wider Horizons newsletter, in its July-August 2020 issue, included this Director’s Note from Denise:
We Are Not Alone
For the nearly half of us who live alone, who do we consult when things are not going well? Even when we live with someone else, we may need to look outside our home for our consultants. I’m not just talking about expertise here, but also about the need to think through something while someone listens.
The need for someone to talk over important, even urgent, issues has come up for me even more recently. For one thing, there is more than one way the pandemic is making people ill. Some health conditions may temporarily interrupt our ability to reason: urinary tract infections, stroke, low blood sugar, drug interactions, etc. Even just prolonged isolation affects our frontal lobe executive functions and can lead to depression and further isolation.
Where can we turn to for a second opinion or to help us sort through options? Who could we “bother”? For example, it’s a scary time to enter the health care system. But when we decide not to, or are caught up in fear and indecision, just staying away and by ourselves can make us sicker.
On the way to making up your mind about your best course of action, remember that since you live in a Village, you are not alone. Who could you consult? Who might have something to offer that helps you make a decision? This is not an exhaustive list:
- Me, preferably before 7 pm at night, even on weekends―I may not know what you should do, but I probably have ideas or suggestions…but not medical advice.
- Wider Horizons Board members (do you have that list?) and don’t forget that Paul Beck is a retired physician who welcomes calls.
- A member of your pod whose experience or judgment you respect or who is on your wavelength.
- Another Wider Horizons member (ditto).
- Family, neighbors.
Learning to ask for help was always important and something we needed to learn. Now it could even save our lives.