How we are

By Eva Murray | Oct 09, 2011

After the microburst, the strange wind, an eerie loud bang, and people running, and the awful realization with crushed metal and no pulse, and after the long wait for the Coast Guard and the Marine Patrol, who brought the Camden First Aid Association Access Team -- who are firefighters with extrication equipment — with all working late into the night, and after the islanders had carried our good friend, Don, out of the woods, and kept him in their hearts and close by as he rode in the truck south through the middle of our island, he was carried into the island church for the night, where Suzanne stayed until late, and left the light on, and Rob came very early the next morning just to be there and light a candle, until the pilots and the Marine Patrol came back….

Then what does everybody do?

Good question.

The crew of the Sunbeam brought their boat, which is at once a place of healing and counsel and storytelling and breakfast, back to Matinicus to feed those who had been up all night and to offer a place for coming together. None had an appetite, but the smell of Pat’s sausages frying were a balm and a salve for bruised nerves. Matinicus has no public gathering spot, no store, no café, no obvious place to hang around when there is more than the usual shared experience. The Sunbeam came here to be the village diner, perhaps their best feature on a singularly hard morning, and many here will be grateful for a very long time. Sometimes the best minister is the one standing by the cookstove.

The following evening, word went around of plans on short notice for a little gathering at the church. There would be no preaching; this place does not encourage preaching. We do not encourage such things as denomination, dogma, or any outward signs of faith. We don’t give a damn about membership. The Matinicus church is our community hall, our dignified little space, determinedly neutral and unlocked, a logical town center when a matter of great seriousness lies at hand, and the heater works, and the acoustics are good, and it is owned by all.

The born-to-it Catholic and the convinced Quaker and the high church folks and the no church folks came together, and the deep-thinking little boy who is the Linus of Matinicus, and the regular Yankee Protestant and the happily heathen and the commercial fishermen, some of whom would say that they have learned by experience that no man is entirely alone when he is in the middle of the ocean.

Somebody rang the church bell, once for every year of Don’s life. We sat together just being still. One neighbor spoke of Don’s pride in his Scot ancestry, his Celtic heritage, and she told a little story of the rowan tree cross. “Here,” she said, “we call it mountain ash.” Such a tree is everywhere on this island, right now brilliant in red berries. Another islander who had responded and worked on the scene read a few lines of Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his essay “Fate.” We sang "Amazing Grace," as best we could, but mostly we talked about Don Campbell.

Everybody asks, “How are you?” and “How is the island doing?” and “How are the pilots doing?” and “What happened?” and we have to reconcile ourselves with the reality of not knowing. I, for one, do not even understand the complexity of how I feel, so I surely cannot answer for how others feel. But for those who go looking too soon for explanations and easy philosophies and forced metaphysical one-liners, I say, give us some elbow room. It is OK not to know what to say. As I write, it is Saturday, and in a few minutes I will climb aboard the airplane and fly to Owls Head. Nervous? Maybe; but I will do it anyway.

A few words from Emerson:

A man ought to compare advantageously with a river, an oak, or a mountain. He shall have not less the flow, the expansion, and the resistance of these.

‘Tis the best use of Fate to teach a fatal courage. Go face the fire at sea, or the cholera in your friend's house, or the burglar in your own, or what danger lies in the way of duty, knowing you are guarded by the cherubim of Destiny. If you believe in Fate to your harm, believe it, at least, for your good.

For, if Fate is so prevailing, man also is part of it, and can confront fate with fate. If the Universe have these savage accidents, our atoms are as savage in resistance. We should be crushed by the atmosphere, but for the reaction of the air within the body. A tube made of a film of glass can resist the shock of the ocean, if filled with the same water. If there be omnipotence in the stroke, there is omnipotence of recoil.

…Relation and connection are not somewhere and sometimes, but everywhere and always. The divine order does not stop where their sight stops. The friendly power works on the same rules, in the next farm, and the next planet…Fate, then, is a name for facts not yet passed under the fire of thought; —f or causes which are impenetrate.

…Man moves in all modes, by legs of horses, by wings of wind, by steam, by gas of balloon, by electricity, and stands on tiptoe threatening to hunt the eagle in his own element. There's nothing he will not make his carrier.

OK, time for me to go to the airstrip.


Eva Murray lives on Matinicus Island.

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