By Fred Benson
Last year at this time, I described the pleasurable experience of attending the 2014 Maine Fiddle Camp, a time of musical and human harmony that served to suggest what life in a broader context could be like. It was a community of goodwill and mutual support based upon widespread commitment to a common goal.
This unity of purpose created an exceedingly positive environment for all, and by the end of the week, I began to think of this experience as a template that should be applied to the cities and towns of the United States – in particular, to our nation’s capital.
Following that pattern, the combination of several late-summer experiences this year has caused me to reflect yet again on the good things of which human beings are capable and how they might be applied on a larger scale in our society. On a 10-day trip to Newfoundland, we were rather amazed to be greeted by everyone with whom we met in a manner suggesting that we were old friends.
One evening in St. John’s, we went to a restaurant (actually a famous pub featuring a well-known Irish band,) only to find that no seats were available. As we turned to leave, a man approached us, tapped my shoulder and said, “Come and join us, we’ll make room at our table.” Somewhat astonished, we accepted his offer and spent the next 2-1/2 hours thoroughly enjoying our time with four young Newfoundlanders, and in the process, learning much about their province and its history. We remain in email contact and hope to host them at our home when they come south.
Similarly, having stopped in a small shop to ask directions to a well-known coastal landmark, another customer overhearing our request said, “My car is right outside, the white one, just follow me, and I’ll get you on the road to the Cape. We gratefully accepted his offer as he led us more than 8 miles through traffic before stopping to indicate that the road we were on would take us to Cape Spear. We thanked him profusely and waved goodbye.
A few minutes later, I looked in my rearview mirror only to see his car behind us where it stayed for 14 more miles before arriving at our destination. He pulled in next to us in the parking area, came to our car, and said, “I wasn’t really following you to make sure you got here (which he probably was,) but I wanted to tell you about Cape Spear and its history. I thought you’d like to know.” His name is Gary O’Grady, and we will never forget him or his courtesy.
There are certainly many other places in the world where this kind of human kindness may be found, but in Newfoundland it was pervasive.
Capping off these experiences (pun intended) was a visit to our local dentist where I was being treated to invasive curiosity for 30 minutes while staring at messages posted on the ceiling. My eyes caught and then lingered on a writing entitled “Success” attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Not a bad notion.
Fred Benson is a resident of Mount Desert and publishes Capitol Commentary, an independent political newsletter