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We all have something to offer others

I had, until early this week, intended to write a column about the upcoming First Friday art events. But the First Friday art walk has been canceled like most other events.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, already reeling from seasonal wildfire smoke and a significant change in leadership over the past couple of years, has shuttered for at least a month. Oregon Cabaret Theatre has closed its most recent show early and will be dark until the risk of contagion passes.

Restaurants and cafes are either closed or in take-out mode.

Working people across our valley and the world have been put on involuntary leave with little or no money in savings, and people well off enough to have a savings or a stock portfolio have seen their net worth cut to a fraction of whatever it was a few short weeks ago. Despite bailouts and interest rate cuts, the country is in for a long and grueling process of self-reflection. It is perhaps not an overstatement to say that laissez-faire capitalism and the American Dream as we might have known it is over.

The upside of this downward spiral is that everyone, with the exception of a handful of people at the very top, is now feeling the sort of anxiety and uncertainty that young people and the working poor have been living with for decades. There is a sense that we are all in a similar boat, one that will require a sort of sacrifice and mutual support system, indeed a spiritual solidarity, that many feel has been missing from American life for a very long time.

We have not had to face a crisis at this level since the flu pandemic of 1918. Now is not a time to point fingers — there will be plenty of time for that later — but to come together in real solidarity and to show ourselves what a community really is.

With that in mind, as Ashlanders, Oregonians, Americans and citizens of the world, let us ask ourselves what we can do to protect and serve our friends and loved ones, our emergency services, our neighbors and tenants and local businesses. Instead of picking the shelves bare and hiding in our houses, how can we congregate in spirit if not in the flesh?

Ashland has long been a place where community is valued and professed as a core component of our devotion to civic duty and to a collaborative spirit. If you are a landlord, can you afford to give your tenants a break in the rent? If you are a healthy young person, how can you help an elderly member of the community? If you have space in your home or acreage sitting empty, can you help by filling those spaces with friends in need?

If you have skills that can be utilized during a period of furlough, how best can you give of yourself, with a full heart, to this beautiful city we all love?

Take a moment to reflect on the strange solidarity that this disaster can bring forth. Already, many of the working poor and artists and unhoused people in our own backyard are suffering mightily. It is unlikely that many of us will recover from the onslaught anytime soon. Something as simple as a home-cooked meal or a few dollars more can make all the difference when a fellow citizen is facing the abyss, and there are far more people who are in dire need already — never mind in a few months time — who would be delighted by small or large acts of generosity.

My skill set is here on the page. I do not have a medical degree or a large home or deep pockets. But I do know that in this new reality, we are all called upon to do as much with what we have as is humanly possible. If not now, then when?

Next week I will write about another artist or actor or musician or arts administrator who is working toward giving us all a better world, but for now, it is my duty and my privilege to do what I can to bring us through this catastrophe. I hope you will join me not just in word, but in action.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a columnist, arts reviewer and cultural commentator. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.