Lessons learned in a pandemic year

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — It started out like any other year, but 2020 took a big turn for what some would consider the worst year in recent history.

While a global pandemic slowed our lives to a mere tick tock of the clock, the killing of a Black man in Minneapolis incited protests, and more people turned out to vote than in any other presidential election.

Many watched the world go by from their living rooms or chose to binge watch whatever their favorite streaming platform offered. Others took up hobbies like baking bread or cooking what could no longer be ordered from their favorite restaurant.

Safe six, meaning staying a safe 6 feet apart, became a catchy public service announcement and masks went from simple face coverings for safety to personal fashion statements. All in one year.

While parents adjusted to their children learning remotely from home and school administrators scrambled to reinvent the way instruction is delivered, our community persevered.

With so many changes happening in one year, it would be impossible to not reflect on what we all have taken away from 2020. What do we value more than we did before? How have our lives changed, for the better or for worse?

We asked members of the community to share what lessons they learned from the last year, particularly from living during a pandemic due to the novel coronavirus, and here is what they offered:

“I learned that we could reinvent the way we do business in a relatively short period of time and hopefully deliver some very good customer service,” said Durlin Lunt, the town manager for Mount Desert. “But it was a challenge, no doubt about it.”

Tremont Town Manager Chris Saunders said, “I think one of the big things I had as a takeaway is, the Maine Municipal Association recommends towns have three to four months of their annual budget saved in their undesignated fund balance.” Before this year, he explained, Saunders had not fully understood what kind of situation would arise where a town would have zero revenue coming in. “This pandemic was a situation that reinforced why and when it would be necessary to have that kind of savings,” he said. “Everyone knows it’s important to have an undesignated fund balance. Now we have one. You can just never predict anything.” Saunder is also the father of a toddler and his wife is an essential worker on Mount Desert Island. He added a personal lesson learned is that “childcare is the underpinning of society.”

“I’m fortunate to be up here, I came up from New York,” said Camp Beech Cliff Executive Director Debra Deal. “I’m a mom of three kids; one in elementary school, one in high school and one in college. When we didn’t open up camp, I knew it wasn’t going to be good for the kids because they needed something to do for the summer.  “But, we’ve all figured out ways to get through it,” she added. “We are fortunate because we have the outdoors. We have a lot of people that will take care of our kids. Creating pods of kids to play outside, one or two, was something we learned to do.”

Kristi Losquadro, who chairs the Conners Emerson School Committee said, “The year of 2020 has taught me to appreciate things more and to be more flexible. I also learned how to knit.”

“Being aware, I think it has made us all much more aware of things, how you go about your daily life,” said Diana Novella, the events and community relations director for Harbor House Community Service Center in Southwest Harbor. Once life goes back to some semblance of normal and the vaccine has had a chance to work, “it will be interesting to see what stays.”

“I learned that libraries are essential,” said Elly Andrews, director of the Northeast Harbor Library.

“Professionally, as a librarian, the pandemic has brought me a lot closer to my colleagues,” said Erich Reed, executive director of the Southwest Harbor Public Library. “These COVID challenges have actually brought 100-200 librarians to meet virtually that would have never met otherwise. The professional development meetings through Zoom have helped all librarians stay more engaged on a statewide level and helped strengthen connections.”

“I am realizing that the little brief connections with lots of people as I go about my daily business, and they go about theirs, are big factors in my quality of life, and that’s what I’m really missing,” said Bar Harbor Town Council member Jill Goldthwait, who is also a columnist for the Islander.

“The pandemic has taught this community to be as flexible as possible,” said Anne-Marie Hart, executive director of the Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor. “It has taught me to keep persevering and trudging forward!”

“I’ve learned that the business community has to stand up for itself; we have to stay together and stay involved,” said Eben Salvatore, director of operations for Bar Harbor Resorts. “People should see just how important business and tourism is to our island. It’s the only reason so many people can afford to live here.”

“What I am most thankful for that I learned in 2020 is that Maine has done a remarkable job and in particular our island communities in collaboration with local government and health officials to keep MDI safe,” said Heather Lewis, the executive director of the Mount Desert Nursing Association. “MDI has weathered the COVID storm with relatively low incidence and shows it truly takes the village to make this work; in doing so MDNA can continue to work to keep our elders wellbeing and safety of utmost importance.”

“As director of the Historical Society, I learned that we need history to fully understand the times in which we’re living and to be inspired by how our ancestors overcame similar struggles,” said Raney Bench, director of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society.

Tremont Town Clerk Katie Dandurand said fear is what comes to mind when people hear the word pandemic. “How we dealt with it was great,” she added. “I think everyone took every action possible to stay safe. There’s a lot of team building. Everybody got together and worked as a team. “Out of something so negative, people came together in a positive way.”

“I guess I’ve learned how vulnerable certain people can be, like those who aren’t able to get out and go get their own groceries,” said Jim Willis, police chief of the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Police Departments. “I’ve also learned there’s a lot of people looking in on those people all the time and nobody really knew about it until now.”

“Assume good intent,” said Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System. “I don’t think anybody gets up and says, ‘How can I do harm? How can I be mean?’ So, take a step back and don’t react to things, but just assume that people are coming from a good place.”

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