All might be calm, and all might be bright, but it just doesn’t seem very merry. Some of us have dutifully dragged out the lights and the decorations, trimmed the tree and bought the roast. Some of us, with a cry of “bah, humbug,” have pulled the covers over our heads and are waiting for the December holidays to be over.
We have agonized over December celebrations. Do we invite family? Under what rules? Vaccinations? Masks? Tests? Do we take whatever risk it entails to travel to visit them? Drive, stay at motels and eat in restaurants? Fly, worrying less about COVID and more about whether a fellow traveler will choose to cut loose with a full-on temper tantrum at 35,000 feet?
As lucky as we are to live in Maine, specifically Hancock County, it is still a stressful time. So far, we have managed to keep a grip on our collective sanity, at least if we ignore social media. And the true Maine? The Maine that turns out to help feed, clothe and shelter anyone in need? Oh yeah, that Maine is still here.
Churches, schools, civic groups, scouts, Rotarians, businesses and the Ys (both M and W) prepare meals, collect coats, wrap gifts or donate money. Local knitters rev up the needles and turn out hats, scarves and mittens that get channeled to those in need. Mainers grateful for teachers, firefighters, police, nurses, emergency responders and ambulance drivers bear platters of cookies and fudge to COVID-weary workers.
The need is crushing. Organizations that offer help for those experiencing substance abuse, domestic violence, inadequate shelter, hunger, a lack of warm clothing, unreliable transportation and a lack of medical care are inundated, not just now but all the year ’round. For them, it is not a once-a-year event. It is the way life is for far too many Mainers.
Estimates suggest over 2,000 Mainers are homeless on a daily average. Some of this is attributed to the recent rapid increase in housing costs. A $15-million state bond to invest in housing for the homeless failed in 2020. Even those who have housing often struggle to stay warm because their home is in poor repair or not properly weatherized, and the cost of heating is climbing.
The data for food insecurity are even worse. An estimated 182,000 Mainers experienced hunger this year. That’s over 13 percent of our state population. And every time a school closes due to COVID, kids are left without one of their best sources of food sufficiency – school lunch. And breakfast. That extends to whole families as well, as many “backpack” programs send weekend food home with students.
Make no assumptions about your own community. There is an appalling need for food, clothing and shelter in every single town in Maine, and Hancock County is no exception. There are plenty of myths about Mainers prioritizing snowmobiles and flat-screen TVs over basic necessities but judge not unless you have walked in those shoes.
Ready for some good news? The light is coming! As of today, we have nine seconds more daylight than we did at the solstice on Dec. 21. By New Year’s Eve, we will nave almost four more minutes of light. What will you do with your four minutes?
The winter amusements of last year are wearing thin. Gatherings around a fire pit seem a little less enchanting. Our tolerance for the restrictions on our lives is dwindling. Every time it seems like the end might be in sight, it isn’t. But wait! All is not lost.
The doorbell rings, announcing the arrival of a neighbor with a plate of cookies. On the way up the street a friend stops what he’s doing and comes to the road to chat. A dog in the park greets you like a long-lost friend. A baby in a stroller hollers and waves his tiny mittens at you. The librarian has put a book on hold for you, unasked, because she knows you like that author.
Do you have a clue, friends and neighbors, how vital these tiny acts of kindness are? For those of us who are lucky enough to have our basic needs met, it is the friendships, the inter-connectedness, the chance encounters that keep us on an even keel. Wave at a car and the driver will wave back. Say hi to a passerby on the street and they will give a “hi” back. It’s nourishment for the spirit.
March Hill is still in the distance but soon you’ll be able to see it from here. In the meantime, in the words of Jean Paul, from Quebec, who visits Bar Harbor as often as he can: “Have NICE HOLIDAYS and continue to be very prudents.”
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.