The sum of the parts

By Karen Brace | Jun 30, 2016

In the fall of 2015, the editor and I talked about the name of this column. We could have named it anything, of course, but settled on Camden Connects. It wasn’t just for alliteration, (was it Kim?)

In light of some recent issues and accomplishments, this title has taken on even more significance.

We’re all after some form of connection. Back when social media began to catch on, the word was that those who used it were looking to “belong” to a community of some sort. I guess that was true of nearly everyone, judging by the current prevalence of social media.

When I graduated from college or even as young as when I left summer camp, it hurt. I wondered if I’d ever see some of those friends again. It was leaving the community I’d grown a part of that offered me not just familiarity but commonality. Now when young people move on from a college campus or another shared experience, they don’t feel separated. My own daughter’s friends often know about a new place she’s been before I do. They belong to a community even when they’re far-flung across the globe.

Often the most effective means of connection is in person rather than through machines, screens and phones, and this kind of interpersonal connection we all find this is possible here in town. The post office and grocery stores serve as meeting spots, as do parks, sidewalks, and downtown events. I’d guess that most of us prefer that sort of communication over electronic, but each in context serves its own worthy purpose.

An even deeper form of connection was described at a local event last week by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. She was here to celebrate the occasion of the Coastal Mountains Land Trust’s announcement of the new “Round the Mountain Trail” initiative. During her remarks, Chellie spoke about this area where she herself had spent so much time as a young person, saying, “This is a place where we can connect with something bigger than ourselves.” This immediately struck a chord and set a tone that resonated, especially in that setting.

The spot for the gathering was in Rockport near the shore of Mirror Lake off Route 17, nestled beneath the mountains, and it was a beautiful day. Thanks to a partnership between Maine Water Company and CMLT, all the land within our view will be protected by a permanent easement, never to be developed. When the project is completed, a new multi-use trail will run 9 miles around the perimeter of Ragged and Bald mountains. CMLT is a quarter of the way toward its fundraising goal and is to be congratulated at reaching this stage.

Everyone will have their own take on the phrase that Congresswoman Pingree used, “connecting with something greater than ourselves.” I often hear about Camden’s sense of community drawing people to this place because a close-knit environment has become a priority for their lives. In most places, neighbors will connect especially during a tragedy and form bonds, even with strangers. But here there seems to be a commitment to that neighborly sense almost all the time, something enduring in the normal course of days and years unfolding.

From Camden’s young students through its retirees, people find a way to connect and participate. Several forms of community service are performed by all ages of students, earning induction for the most self-initiated youth volunteers into the Camden Hills Regional High School National Honor Society. There are our multiple service organizations: the Lions, Kiwanis, church groups, the Garden Club, and I’m sure many others I may not know of. Camden is the only small town I’ve heard of with two Rotary Clubs. Community organizations like the Camden Public Library, Habitat for Humanity and Coastal Mountains Land Trust rely on volunteers. Some residents who are knowledgeable about our area welcome visitors at the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce on the public landing and offer them information to help them connect to our region’s assets and services. And there are volunteer Boards of Directors who lead our area’s non-profit organizations, which number over 50. Over a hundred more people are involved on Camden’s committees, working for positive change for the community. All are ways of belonging to a collective whole, greater than the sum of its parts, relating to others with similar interests. This network creates the strength that our town’s built on.

Chellie Pingree, in that setting nestled between lakes and mountains, spoke about the connection to nature and the great outdoors. Natural resources are of course an attribute that attracts many of us here to reside, raise our families, start businesses or engage in meaningful employment in the area. Her phrasing was right on target, describing another way we connect with something broader than ourselves:

Education and culture serve this purpose as well. There are educational and cultural opportunities in our small town, with a population of 4,850, that often outnumber most. Our students are fortunate to have school personnel and organizations such as Youth Arts who care about connecting Camden’s kids to the broader world through enrichment and intercultural opportunities. Our middle school’s Japan exchange and the high school’s international program are two examples.

Connection to these ideas has to be protected and tended. While we enjoy Camden’s sense of familiarity and comfort, it’s not something we can assume will be here to stay without care and attention. Among other methods, we all have to remain consistently vigilant about the value of what we have with regard to how we resolve issues. Witness the difference in results between a yes/no referendum delivering an evenly split vote vs. an inclusive community process, working toward collaborative consensus. A use for the town-owned property at 116 Washington St., the former site of the Apollo Tannery, is currently front of mind.

Connecting via healthy dialogue is the way we must choose to move forward. Indeed, it’s the only way we do. We don’t always need to be at consensus, and we won’t, but we can commit to incorporating respect in our dialogue, listening to views, and embracing progress as we frame the future. If we don’t deliberately define ourselves in this way, our community is threatened.

We’ve seen results of the divisive approach, and we’ve lived through it. We’re currently seeing the results of more careful action, cultivating connection. A thorough process requires a lot of work and probably months, if not years of dedication. The seed has been sewn for creative problem solving going forward, and we all must guard it until we have a firm community approach in place. It’s worth staying the course.

I’d urge you not to follow what you sense may be divisive but to appeal to an idea that’s greater than ourselves. We as a community will get to where we need to be through combining the sum of the parts. Our sense of community is bigger than ourselves and, like our natural resources, it’s worth standing up for and protecting. I know we have the energy and foresight to do that.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jun 30, 2016 16:42

Well said!

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever

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