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Life is full of disappointments, but often the worst of them is when something that you have known for a long time to be fundamentally true no longer is. I had an occasion to come to grips with this just the other day.
One of the things that I have always deeply admired about Maine has been the willingness of people here to help each other out. When I first came here, after living most of my life in other places, it was an aspect of that culture here that really impressed me. I have always thought about it as a part of Maine special and not somewhere else, but recently, I have begun to wonder if it is no longer true.
I was driving with a friend just after a snowstorm recently when a deer ran out right in front of us. My friend had to slam on her brakes and the car slid off the road. It was a minor incident but nonetheless a little heart stopping. The car ended up sliding to a stop at an angle and we ended up breathing heavily with our pulses racing. We got out of the car and although there was no damage, the back wheels were buried in some serious snow and we knew we were not getting out without moving some of it. We had no shovel so we had to try and dig out the wheels by hand so that we could get enough traction to get the car back on the road. This kind of thing happens frequently around here to plenty of people, but that wasn't what made the experience disappointing. The disappointment stemmed from the fact that we were two women involved in a near accident on the side of the road trying to dig out the car and not one of the 3 men shoveling their driveways who had witnessed the business and were in shouting distance bothered to assist us. In fact, not only did they not offer to help with their shovels, they totally ignored us as if we were invisible. No one asked us if we were OK, no one came over to see if they could help, no one even looked at us. It was as if we were not even there. We were down on our knees trying to scoop out snow with our hands and not a single car that went by stopped and absolutely no one bothered to even acknowledge that we existed. It was completely bizarre, as if we had stepped out of Maine and into the Twilight Zone.
This has not been my typical experience since living here, as I said before. It was like some weird science fiction moment in time where people exist in some kind of isolated bubble and are completely unaware of anyone around them. I can't lie – I was shocked. Shocked, sad, and confused. What happened to my world? My friend, who has lived here all her life and has a family history going back a couple of hundred years was equally appalled. We couldn't help wondering if someone had changed the rules and forgotten to send us the memo. After much work we managed to get the car out and drove away, still invisible to our neighbors and honestly dismayed.
I have a nephew who moved out to Colorado some years ago with a friend. The first winter they were there they were amused to discover that when they stopped to help someone who was off the road or stuck in snow or ice, the people in question were almost always in total shock that a complete stranger would stop and help them. They would ask the boys if they wanted money for their help and be surprised when they declined an offer to be paid. It was something that happened frequently enough that it became a running joke between them. When asked why they were helping they always said the same thing, “This is what we do in Maine.”
I thought about all this again when I was trying to shovel out my neighbor, who is a widow with the kind of infirmities that make it impossible for her to shovel feathers, much less snow. The snow was piled up at the end of the driveway into about 3 ? feet of heavy, frozen misery. It was like trying to chip away at Mount Rushmore with a teaspoon. There I was, all 5'2” of me, a tiny little woman of a certain age, trying to make a dent in a ton of hard snow, and 3 men driving trucks with plows on them drove by me and never gave me a second look. In the past, I have had numerous kind souls in trucks with plows who have taken a swipe at the snow bank to make it a little more manageable for me, usually with a smile and a wave, and been warmed by the fact that I lived among people who practice random acts of kindness. Not this year, nor the last couple of years to be honest.
What has become of us? Have we given into the fear and paranoia that seems to dominate our society in this country? Are we no longer Maine, and by definition, different? Better? My son, Chuck, and I were talking about this and we made a conscious decision to not go with the flow. Yesterday we were driving down the road and Chuck spotted an older woman trying to shovel snow from her door to her driveway. We stopped, he jumped out of the car, took the shovel from her, and quickly did the job it probably would have taken her an hour to manage. I chatted with her while he cleared her a safe path. She told my son that he reminded her of how young men used to be. I'm pretty sure that was a compliment. In the end Chuck and I decided that while there are some things that need to change, there are others that never should.
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