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Koutoulas: Staying connected and socially distant

I resisted writing about the coronavirus pandemic last week. I figured everyone had had their fill of all that and would appreciate something more positive.

I still feel that way. But we must be clear-eyed about the challenges we face.

So this column is an effort to confront the threat we all face while sticking to the narrative of positivity.

Our lives have changed more dramatically in the last two weeks or so than any of us ever imagined was possible. Needless to say, these changes have been overwhelmingly negative.

But it’s crucial to our mental well-being to look for little bright spots amid the chaos and fear. To look for ways to help fight this scourge — without sacrificing our humanity. You may feel the same way.

In this period of “social distancing,” savor those few precious moments when you’re able to interact with strangers — from a distance. Be kind to them.

While at the store recently, I couldn’t help but notice that most people seemed consumed by their shopping or their work. There was very little interaction. It’s an understandable response, but a poor one.

While we do need to maintain physical separation in public, we still need human interaction.

So I went out of my way to show a little extra kindness to the lady who was alongside me looking for potatoes. I smiled and mentioned they only had the 10-pound bags of baking potatoes, and asked if she wanted one of those. She smiled back and started to get one, but I grabbed it first — then placed it in her cart.

The lady gave me the sweetest smiled and thanked me.

At the checkout counter, the woman ahead of me had many more items than the limit for the “fast checkout.” Still, I didn’t do what I usually do — give dirty looks.

Instead, I listened as the cashier explained to her that she could only buy one package of paper towels, not the two she had placed on the counter.

The lady looked exasperated, and I made a small joke about the situation. She looked at me and laughed. Then she said something unexpected.

“Thanks for the laugh. You don’t know how much I needed that right now.”

We all made some friendly banter as the cashier finished with her order.

When I approached the cashier with my groceries, she was noticeably more cheerful than she had been.

We exchanged some more pleasant conversation. Then the cashier also thanked me.

“You just reminded me,” she said, “that we all need to be as cheerful and kind as we can right now. We’re all struggling, aren’t we?”

Indeed.

Besides trying to be kinder and connect with people, there are lots of other things we can do right now.

Get out into nature. Whether in the woods, in the park, on a quiet country lane, or just in your backyard — find a place of solace. Notice that nature doesn’t care about the pandemic. Watch the trees, the birds, the insects and other living things. All these things remain as they have been for millennia.

Look up at night. Notice the stars, the planets, the moon. They’re still there, still set in their majestic courses amid the heavens. Nothing is out of place; nothing is falling from the sky. Nothing is dying.

Use technology to help you stay connected. Isn’t it funny how social media is suddenly being viewed not as a time-wasting monster, but as a desperately-needed means of remaining connected? Learn to use it to the fullest.

Catch up on your reading. Binge watch that television series you’ve been meaning to catch.

Hug your loved ones — the ones who live with you. Social distancing need not apply to live-in companions. Have a family game night. Tell stories. Watch a movie together.

This is also a great time to support our local businesses and professionals.

If you have a hair appointment that you can no longer use, pay your stylist or barber anyway.

Order takeout or delivery from one of the many local eateries that are offering it.

Buy a gift certificate from a local shop.

Social distancing is the byword these days. Perhaps a better term for it would be physical distancing.

We can still be social. We still need that human touch — even if it’s only virtual.

Take care, stay safe, and let’s beat this thing.

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me.