The other night at a basketball game I sat by Lauralee Northcott, who I maybe hadn’t seen since before the initial COVID shutdowns. Lauralee — who is a local singer, songwriter, poet, basket maker, and author — caught me up on how she stayed connected to people in an era of social distancing.
“When COVID shut down our normal activities as a nation my world went from outward to inward,” Lauralee says. “Probably because I’m in my 70s and retired, being home actually felt good to me. It felt like time, and I embraced this shift.”
But as a highly social person, Lauralee acknowledged that she often felt lonely. So she reached out to people, not on social media or in chat rooms, but right in her own neighborhood: Winthrop’s Waring Street, which Lauralee describes as “a short dead-end street in a small town” with about 11 households.
These weren’t neighbors who already knew each other well. “Although we share a street we often do not see one another for days or weeks or even months.” Still, Lauralee reached out, and others reached back. “Soon we formed the Waring Street Friday Night Club (WSFNC),” Lauralee says. “For more than a year during the pandemic we met outside on the street from 5-6 p.m. and visited. Sometimes it was very cold, and sometimes too hot, but we stayed just one hour.”
Almost four years later, the WSFNC still meets weekly. “As time went on the restrictions ended and folks got back to their lives. Attendance dropped to just a few regulars and that is where it remains today, except on special occasions,” Lauralee says. “Some of us meet most weeks and some rarely join, but everyone is invited.”
Lauralee calls this hour “precious and important” to her. She says she understands that younger people are “busy making a living, taking care of kids, and living life” and that “neighbors are not a priority at various stages in our lives, and truly we don’t need neighbors as we may have a hundred years ago. Once, survival might depend on dependable neighbors as a resource.”
But she also points out the emotional benefits of being in relationships with neighbors at any age. “Having an awareness of those around us is real,” she says. “As a neighborhood, we are connected by area, and having a personal knowledge of one another, even superficially, can provide a sense of security deep in the bones.”
As a public school teacher for more than 30 years, Lauralee was “trained by education and experience to see the value and unique aspects of all people,” but says “even those who aren’t wired to be connective can still benefit from an awareness of one another.”
Connections help relieve anxiety, Lauralee notes, asking “What world issues keep you up at night? Politics? Economics? Climate change? Wildfires?” Being connected to others can alleviate concerns about thorny issues, or at least help you not feel alone in your worries.
Laurelee says she continues to “treasure WSFNC,” and that she is “thankful for each and every one on my street, in my town, in my valley, county, state, country and the world. We are irrevocably connected, that is real.”