Billings, Montana — a safe haven for many


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As big cities enforce evening curfews and peaceful protests get out of hand, I can’t help but be grateful for the community I live in. 

Billings, Montana, though the largest city by population in the state, feels very much like a small town in many ways. Being able to go out in the community again is such a blessing and I realize all the things I used to take for granted before the pandemic. 

Things like an unseen smile under a barista’s mask. I can tell she’s smiling from the squint and the twinkle in her eyes. My first day at the gym this morning, and a fellow workout buddy held the door open for me with her foot, a small gesture of kindness and respect but it did not go unnoticed. A walk through the Songbird Community Garden last night proved to me that neighbors are bringing new life even through the hardest of times. Last weekend I reveled in live music and a glass of wine with friends old and new at the winery down the street. Life here in Billings, is social again.

In 2020 we lost some things—

We lost our connection to each other. To strangers. We became afraid of each other. We may even have lost compassion for co-workers or grocery store clerks or out-of-staters on “our turf”. We may have forgotten how to check our snap judgements and give grace to a stranger who may be dealing with more than we know.

Montana shut down early on and instated stay-at-home policies to prevent the spread of the virus. And it worked! We did a really hard thing to protect the health of our communities. We looked out for each other by staying apart these past 2 1/2 months. We were able to protect ourselves, our neighbors, and our families from a wrath of deaths during a global pandemic. 

But we have also gained—

Neighbors enjoying a glass of wine together.

I am grateful we did this, together, even though we had to be apart. Now, we are coming together again in public spaces. We are able to interact socially (6-feet apart of course), and this is a true blessing. Engaging with others beyond the members of our household helps us to practice empathy and compassion daily out in the world where it’s more of a challenge. We need to remember how to treat others in a broader environment.

We have gained a greater connection with nature and our home environments. Before Covid-19, these areas of our life may have been neglected. Car commutes to offices away from our homes and long days with families spent apart meant little time for family walks outside. Backed up stoplights were replaced by more crowded trails. A good problem to have.

Homes became sanctuaries again. Many took stock of life inside their home and made strides to rid their homes of things they don’t love. We gained space by losing stuff that isn’t meaningful to us anymore. We made spaces for people to live rather than for our stuff to live.

We learned how to cook and how to bake! Activities that naturally bring families together in a healthy way (well, the weekly brownie baking by my daughter maybe not so healthy). But we learned how to do new things at home that don’t cost of lot of money. 

Now, more than ever, I am grateful to be here, in Billings—to be part of a community that sees the humanity in each other. I get to live in a neighborhood designed and built to connect neighbors so even if you live alone, you matter. 

Even if you’re a different color, you matter. 

A different religion? You matter. 

A different gender identity? You matter. 

As we start to feel like things are back to normal, I hope that we experience a new kind of “normal”— one that includes gratitude, grace, and a deeper connection with others whether we know them or not. 

I hope that the lessons we have learned through the first half of 2020 will remain as part of our lives from this point on. I hope that as we come into contact with each other again, we embrace (as allowable) rather than repel. That we offer kind words, encouragement, and light to those around us. 

There is light in the people of Billings, Montana. I see it every day. And I am so grateful to live here.

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