Community members and businesses offer each other help and warmth
BAR HARBOR—It’s incredibly cold here in Maine. How cold? Right now it’s -4 Fahrenheit with a real feel of -30. It’s only going to get worse tonight.
There is a warming shelter in Bar Harbor during the daytime hours today and tomorrow, thanks to the kindness of Open Table MDI, a local nonprofit on upper Cottage Street. On Facebook, some kind people have offered up extra heaters, blankets, their homes.
Another local business, Bar Harbor Lobster Co., on Main Street, has a stack of gift cards at the front desk for anyone who needs a hot meal.
“I know we are all tough to Maine winters, but let’s make absolutely sure that we have our entire community’s back for this one!” they wrote.
The Atlantic Oceanside wrote, “If you are cold tonight or find yourself with frozen pipes and in need of a warm place to sleep and a hot shower – please give us a call at the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel.
“Witham Family Hotels is happy to offer a low rate and work with you to make it possible. (207) 288-5801.”
The Bar Harbor Fire Department notes:
And it’s lovely because it’s neighbors taking care of neighbors. It’s about community and sometimes we really get it.
THIS ISN’T NEWS
This next bit isn’t news, and I hope you’ll forgive me. I intend to keep my promise to only post opinions or columns or personal pieces one every few months if that. But this? This matters to me.
A long time ago, before I became a novelist and novel editor and writing coach, I was a newspaper reporter here in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth and then an editor for a short time in Ellsworth. Today, reminds me of one of the worst stories I had to write back them. And I hope you don’t mind me sharing the column that ran alongside the story. It’s about the cold and a man, and how important community is.
No matter how big your personal community is, tonight or cold nights in the future, please message me if you need something, okay? Even if it’s just for someone to know you’re there.
I’ve changed the man’s name in this story even that isn’t a very newspaper thing to do. Sometimes, I think, it’s better to not be a very newspaper thing. For me, this is one of those times.
It wasn’t until well into the afternoon that we found him, dead beneath a shed on Water Street. And then he was only spotted because an oil spill into the Union River brought firefighters and reporters close by.
We noticed his naked feet first. Then we saw him stretched out between car tires and a garage door.
The Bangor Daily News reporter I was with told the firefighters who were still down by the river trying to mop up oil.
“Guys, there’s a body up here,” he said. His voice was quiet, still, a nothing voice, which was strange coming from him, and the words fell out into the world and for a moment nobody moved.
But Kevin Barnard was more than a body. He was a man.
According to Ellsworth police, Kevin Barnard had a long history of medical problems, including heart trouble. No one’s quite sure where he was living before he died by abandoned car tires last week.
On a normal day, people go missing. Sometimes that gets noticed. Sometimes it doesn’t. On a normal day, people die. Sometimes that gets noticed. Sometimes it doesn’t.
I noticed Kevin Barnard’s death. So did that Bangor Daily News reporter. So did Kevin’s family.
Kevin Barnard drank a lot. He did drugs. He couldn’t go to our county’s only shelter on cold winter days and nights because they don’t allow people who are using drugs or who are drunk. Sometimes when people detox, they have seizures. Sometimes, they get violent. So, Kevin crawled beneath the basement of a shed, wedged himself between an old door and some tires. Then he died, in the cold, alone.
The police came, put on their purple latex gloves, strung up yellow tape to cordon off the area. As they took over, I thought about who Kevin Barnard might be. I thought too about people who go missing from our lives by inches every day. The phone calls we fail to return. The smiles we are sometimes afraid to give. The way the cold can get us.
I didn’t work any longer that Friday. My little girl, Em, stood close by all afternoon. She tugged on my sleeve.
“I don’t want to die alone,” she said.
Her eyes filled and just underneath that edge of sadness, awakening floated.
“I don’t want you to die alone either,” she added.
The wind whipping up off the Union River grew even colder that Friday afternoon. I knew what she meant. She looked up at a treehouse we were working on. It’s high among four trees. We could have stood on its platform, but there weren’t any walls yet, only tree trunks and branches separating us from falling, sheltering us from the sky.
“It’s the living you don’t want to do alone,” I told her. “That’s more important than the dying.”
What gives me hope is that people are noticing other people’s potential plights. The same thing happened with the storm Christmas weekend when many opened their doors, homes, businesses, and some ran generators back and forth between houses of people they didn’t know to keep them warm for a bit.
We all have choices every day even on days where there isn’t a weather event.
When I think about how so many people make the choice for kindness, to help, to live a life that’s not alone—a life of inviting people in from the cold instead of into it? A choice to notice? It gives me hope. These people are business owners, neighbors, teachers, coaches, lawn guys, builders, all taking the time to open their doors, to offer a hand. It’s these people who make a community by making a commitment to it.
Community is partly influenced by the buildings within it, by land use ordinances, zoning rules, but true community? It’s something bigger. It’s about people and interactions and values. It’s about supporting each other.
In times of upheaval, angry politics, outrage, it’s hard sometimes to remember that there are people right next door, right down the street, offering to help bring others out of the cold. But they are here in Bar Harbor. They are here every single day.
Thanks for being here with me. I am so grateful to be a part of this community where people can care so much.
Note: I’ll have that last budget story tomorrow. It’s about the general government requests and planning department requests, and I’m taking some extra time with it because I want to make sure that I get it right.
Bar Harbor Story is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Thank you so much for being with me and please be kind to other people in the comments. Stay warm and let me know if you need anything okay?