Good Neighbors

As you find the joy and love this Christmas season, remember the many living among us who are less privileged

By Mike Jopek

In three short weeks, Christmas arrives. This holiday season seems weirder and lonelier given our traditional travel was interrupted by a global pandemic that’s killed hundreds of Montanans and hospitalized scores more.

There’s good news of an anticipated vaccine to help inoculate locals from the global virus. By this time next year, we won’t be videoconferencing Christmastime, rather celebrating in person.

In forthcoming months we’ll sadly witness more Montana deaths and chronic sickness as the contagion spreads over the holiday season. Tragedy sure spiked the weeks following Election Day.

Local hospitals are gasping under the strain with many nurses and attendants out with sickness. Recruits have been marshaled into Montana to ease the trauma. Unless locals again slow the spread of contagion there’ll be little room at the hospital for anything but emergency.

I listened to a news podcast of an elderly doctor imploring his hometown locals to accept that they were in this together, that their cavalier attitude toward the risky pandemic was dangerously extended to grandma and other people throughout their community. The burden in the doctor’s voice was palpable as he explained rudimentary science in vain.

A nurse in the same news segment talked about when some patients were hauled into the hospital, gasping for air, they yelled at attendants in disbelief that they had the life threating and contagious disease.

Many people seem unable or unwilling to see the devastation the virus has caused to society in mere months, right here in the Flathead. It’s ravaging our local way of life. Towns changed, going back won’t happen, hopefully we can build back even better.

Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell are gracious towns, full of hardworking people who enjoy the outdoors. Our way of life and work coexisted with our ability to survive previous economic downturns. This time feels different.

Some workers are prospering while many others are struggling to keep up with the bills. Housing has become so outrageously expensive that even hope feels lost in acquiring that piece of land for oneself. Many wages are stagnantly low relative to the skyrocketing rent of our small rural towns.

The American migrants fleeing other parts of the nation, places where the environment made living intolerable, moved into the valley by the Sprinter van-fulls. They have money, passion and courage. Over time they’ll become a part of the community as we learn to live next to each other.

Getting there won’t come easy. We’ll suddenly feel the public trails and trailheads busier and lift lines longer on the hill. The abrupt and real pressures leveraged upon our public outdoor infrastructure will be a big and communitywide challenge to overcome.

Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell should continue listening and act to remain the types of places they want to be when they’re grown up. Old age is coming fast. The amount of growth, land transactions, and construction that’s occurred this year, during a pandemic that crippled much of America, is staggering.

Montana recently released a report indicating that the statewide market valuation increases due to just property tax reappraisal was 12% over the year. That will include plenty of property tax sticker shock for some homeowners in places like the Flathead.

We’re all freedom loving Montanans who take our liberty seriously. Our pursuit of happiness remains unparalleled. We’re independent, hardworking people, and believe that the general welfare clause of our Constitution applies to all Americans.

As you find the joy and love this Christmas season, remember the many living among us who are less privileged with scant access to resources or warm housing. Though the stock market smashed record highs recently we’re also witnessing the highest levels of hunger in two decades. Share the love, be that good person, and keep the neighbors safe.