The Star-Herald

Looking to ‘the other side’

Some weeks ago, I asked readers to contribute some of their thoughts for a story on how County residents are coping with the COVID-19 situation. The result was County strong: How Aroostook County residents are navigating the pandemic.

Thank you to all who so willingly shared your personal concerns and insights. It seemed only fair, since I asked you, to share my own answers to those three key questions: What has been the hardest part of all of this? What inspires you to keep going through it? And what do you see on the other side of the crisis we find ourselves in?

The hardest part. For me, as for most of us, the most difficult part is being cut off from loved ones by social distancing. It’s hard to break the habit of dropping in on each other at will.

I miss my co-workers and the office environment, as well. Though working from home is not so bad, there are challenges.  Sometimes the silence really is deafening. My mind wanders and sometimes I feel a need to work twice as hard because it seems like playing hooky.  

There’s another obvious facet to the pandemic: fear. Where will it hit next and how badly? Constant hand-washing conjures up dark images of Lady Macbeth:  “Out, out, damned virus.” Sometimes the worry is palpable. We hear people describe frightening symptoms. That so many are struggling and have been lost to the illness’ effects is heartbreaking.

I take it in stride most days, but sometimes going to the grocery store almost induces panic. What if someone bumps up against me? What if I have to sneeze? What if someone else sneezes on me? Who else has touched that loaf of bread? I find myself holding my breath at times in a store — as if that would help.  

Getting through the crisis. Despite the unknown, though, there are things that keep me going. My family and I chat daily. We are finding humor in the everyday: the combative squirrel that chased a crow away in the backyard, or the “excitement” of taking out the garbage.

In the same vein, my co-workers and I keep in touch each day and that human connection has become a treasure.

Then there are all those who keep our communities going, who provide food, health care, safety and more. If they can “show up” each day, so can we.

Aside from all that is the most simple, but profound, element of all: nature. Somehow, despite this illness that has incapacitated the world, shoots are sprouting and trees are budding. In that is great hope.

The other side. Like most everyone, I can hardly wait until “normal” happens again. It may be a tentative and cautious normal, and one in which we will need to maintain some restriction for a period of time, but it will come. 

When it does, there will of course be tremendous economic fallout. There will be people grieving the loss of loved ones, small businesses struggling, students who have missed so much of their school experience. But we are Maine. We are resilient. We take care of each other. And if anything, we are stubborn enough to defy what conspires to bring us down.

But on the other side of this, I think we will all be more grateful people. I hope we will treasure lessons learned under this restriction, and cultivate joy in one another and in the smaller things of life. Hearing a robin’s song, sharing time with loved ones, watching plants grow, lending a hand, seeing a neighbor smile — such things are, in fact, the ones that matter most. 

Paula Brewer is assistant editor for The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times and St. John Valley Times, plus websites TheCounty.ME and FiddleheadFocus.com. She can be reached at 207-764-4471 or via email at pbrewer@bangordailynews.com.

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