Between here and gone
Yesterday I covered a parade and Memorial Day ceremonies in Lincolnville. This morning I covered a drowning in Camden.
The emotions are poles apart – the festive holiday joy of the parade, even the sense of reverent respect for fallen heroes; and the raw tragedy of a man clutching his chest, then slipping into the water, leaving the friend he was rowing with to tell those who responded, “I couldn't see him!”
And there it is, the distance, as the song says, “between here and gone.” You are strong, a good sculler, you know what you're doing. You don't go out rowing alone, you go with a friend. But the sudden pain comes, making you grab your chest and cry out. You work free of the shoes holding your feet in the boat, lie across the scull. So tired. You just want to rest now. Before help can get to you, the lake has claimed your body.
Everyone standing on the shore as the boats searched for the missing man – fire department personnel, EMTs – was quiet, sober. It was not just another death to them; it was someone from their community, whether they knew him or not.
That is what this morning has in common with yesterday afternoon: the simple acknowledgment people show each other. A woman sitting by the side of Main Street waiting for the parade to start saw me sitting on the ground and invited me to cross the street and use one of her chairs. She told me her name was Carolyn, that she was originally from Connecticut. I said I had gone to high school there. Other people came and sat down, started chatting.
Later, I approached a group of veterans just before the main ceremony started. We spoke briefly, shared jokes. At Lincolnville Beach, the mother of the boy chosen to play “Taps” asked me how the ceremony there would go, and I told her what I knew from last year. I got into a conversation with the pastor who gave the blessing before both ceremonies. He told me how he's retired, but serves two congregations, and his wife told me about their grandchildren.
Each of these little moments was just a small human interaction, people treating each other as neighbors and fellow travelers. There were no barriers, no criteria for admission, just the connection of people who share a community, a way of life, an ethic of neighborliness.
I told a friend visiting from out of town that I like the Memorial Day celebrations around here because people approach them without irony. That goes for most of the other stories I cover as well. People here understand irony, but they also seem to understand the point at which irony shades from self-awareness into self-protection.
My neighbors don't hold each other at a distance in their day-to-day transactions. And so, when the need arises, when tragedy happens, they are able to hold each other.