ROCHESTER, Minn. — When I dropped off my parents and sister at the Rochester, Minn., airport after their visit the first week of March, I didn’t expect to go so long without seeing them again.

When I left the office to work from home a week later, I didn’t expect to still be working from home nine months later, and counting.

When we reported the first COVID-19 death in Minnesota a week after that, I did not expect that number to reach 5,000 by year’s end.

I believe in the adage “Expect the unexpected,” but I think it’s safe to say that everything that’s happened this past year was beyond unexpected. Or, rather, the dreaded “unprecedented.”

When I moved to Rochester from Fargo in January, I told readers I was still unpacking and using GPS to get to the grocery store.

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Meredith Williams is the features editor for the Rochester Post Bulletin
Meredith Williams is the features editor for the Rochester Post Bulletin

Back then, I talked about wanting to get to know my new city, personally and professionally. I was looking forward to community events, concerts, road trips around the area and more.

In February and early March, I was able to experience some of what Southeast Minnesota has to offer. I sipped spiked cocoa while marveling at ice sculptures at SocialICE. I rocked out to Dessa at The Castle. I went thrifting in Kasson on a belly full of pancakes from Charlie’s.

While my family was here, from Maine and California, we enjoyed a meal at Opa! Opa! I don’t recall the conversation, but I remember how it felt laughing with my loved ones over dolmades.

Now, with the pandemic ravaging our country, I don’t know when I’ll experience that again, with physical distance and high risk from underlying conditions keeping us apart. I wish I’d taken a photo that night.

What’s kept us going is a family group chat (my boomer parents learned how to text!), phone calls and Zoom. We met for a video chat on Thanksgiving, and we planned another for Christmas. I called it Zoomsgiving, Dad called it Thankszoom Day. Whatever you call it, it makes spending holidays alone a little less lonely.

There are other things that have kept me going this year, and other ways I’ve familiarized myself with the area — not as much as I had planned, but I’ve done what I can.

I’ve branched out and tried other Rochester eats, relying on recommendations from co-workers and friends. Takeout is a great (and safe) way to get to know a city’s food scene during a pandemic.

City parks have offered a welcome change of scenery, and much-needed fresh air. I’ll keep using parks until my eyelashes freeze and the cold hurts my face (remember, I’m from Fargo).

Birthday goodies left for Post Bulletin Features Editor Meredith Williams at a small gathering at Slatterly Park in May in Rochester. (Contributed photo)
Birthday goodies left for Post Bulletin Features Editor Meredith Williams at a small gathering at Slatterly Park in May in Rochester. (Contributed photo)

Perhaps the most important tools in my pandemic survival kit are connection and kindness.

While it’s been hard to make new friends in person, I’ve found people online who will someday become IRL ("in real life") friends. And some of my pre-existing friendships have gotten stronger thanks to the shared trauma, Netflix watch parties, and the USPS (stickers! swear-y coloring books! cards!).

My co-workers have gone above and beyond to help me feel welcomed while I’m isolating, too, with distanced walks, occasional outdoor dining, and contact-free drop-offs. One made sure I had a home-cooked meal on Thanksgiving, another carried my groceries upstairs after I injured my back. A third checks in on me to make sure I’m OK.

The year 2020 has aptly been described as a dumpster fire, and unfortunately, much of what made it so difficult will continue in 2021. But efforts are underway, including the rollout of two COVID-19 vaccines, that should give us some light at the end of the tunnel. While we wait, we adapt, and we find ways to keep going. I’d love to hear what those have been for you.

Meredith Williams is the features editor for our sister publication, the Rochester Post Bulletin. Readers can reach her at mwilliams@postbulletin.com.