As fear spreads, goodness steps forward

If a chair is broken, you fix it. If a seam has come undone, you sew it. If a clock has the wrong time, you adjust the hands to make it right again. And if a neighbor or friend needs help, you help.

Every morning the numbers are higher than they were when you went to bed. Another country, state, municipality, or neighborhood reports someone is sick. The “C” word, once used only in its long form, has now been abbreviated to five letters a dash and a number: Covid-19. We try to fix it, but it’s difficult when what you’re trying to fix does not cast a shadow in the light. But we will fix it; we always do.

There have been times similar to this in 2001, 2008 and 2014. One was because of a terrorist attack, another due to financial incompetence, and another— far worse in lethal ramifications— the Ebola outbreak. And a very long time ago we experienced the Spanish Flu. Of all these examples, the most terrifying are those we cannot see when directly in front of us: virus and disease.

Alan Kryszak photo

Since that time, we have come far in science-based knowhow and strategic policies to curtail the impact a virus can have on a population. Medicine, communication, and technology will eventually win out against this current situation. It will also give us an edge for the next time. We will learn from this because it’s what we do as a species. We continually learn and adapt. That’s why we’re still here.

As governments respond to this pandemic’s reach, communities grapple, too, with tough decisions about school closures, travel bans and social distancing, feeding the young and the old plus the agonizing fear and anxiety for loved ones near and far. For many of us this is new territory but one in which we will respond collectively, like a family always does.

Alan Kryszak photo

It didn’t take long for that special quality I so often write about here Downeast to bloom. In this climate we now face, that small town “essence” has risen and is already helping to promote a sense of calm. It is not panic that drives us, but thoughtfulness, caring and respect for the moment. We are a community devoted to each other and are now called on to be an example of how fear is reined in and steps are taken forward. Instances of random kindness are everywhere.

A study of that flu pandemic of 1918 gave insights on peoples varying response to something they cannot see. There were, of course, the antisocial behaviors of hoarding foodstuffs and supplies, but those acts were far less in number compared to acts of generosity and concern for others. Psychologists labeled this behavior collective resilience and attribute it to people perceiving themselves in life-threatening situations no longer as individuals but as members of a group; helping others within that group is still a form of selfishness, but selfishness based on a broader meaning of self. This good Samaritan response, as others have called it, has been noted from one disaster to another throughout time and is that same “essence” I see almost everyday right here.

We have heroes already serving on the frontlines every day who do so silently. It takes a crisis to bring clarity and gratitude for all they do. The doctors, physician assistants, nurses, first responders, pharmacists, health aides and medical support staff never shirk from their responsibility, nor forget their oath. In heeding the advice of many by staying home and staying safe, we help them do their jobs.

The other heroes are those good Samaritans willing to lend a hand, a voice or change their way of life to continue to meet the needs of the many. This Downeast community I now call home is doing this, just like I am sure many other communities across this nation are doing the same.

Here amidst postponements and cancellations, people are busy fixing this situation. From people offering to pickup and deliver groceries, teachers teaching anyway they can, distance learning, distance chatting, random tutoring, random kindness, lunch and breakfast for students provided everyday, contact information freely exchanged and social media now being predominately used for good things, we, too, together look to fix this situation.

As I finish writing this I am remembering a poignant moment I saw the other day. It was empathy to the nth degree carried out by one person not looking for recognition, but done for others so that their day may just be a little less scary. It was that “essence” so many of us need right now on full display. In a field behind a home for the elderly, music wafts through the air amidst the trees. In front of an empty gazebo a lone musician sits, plays guitar and sings. The homebound residents press their ears to the windows and listen as this hero sings a simple song during a scary time, and, for the moment, makes it all OK.

Faye Mack photo

The steps being taken are quite drastic, some without precedent. But this community is up for the challenge and it will continue to move forward and look out for those needing assistance. This response in troubling times is a badge of honor I have witnessed many times since arriving here — one of which I am in constant awe and thankful for. Whatever “this” turns out to be in the end, this too, we will fix.

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.