The Fire is Out and No One Knows What's Next
By Eva Murray
Created May 12 2008 - 10:56am
As Rob, the minister from the Sunbeam asked in church the other night, "What the heck next?" He asked that question on behalf of all of us, as he stood in the middle, on a random weekday, beside a cluster of burning candles stuck in a casserole dish full of beach sand, before a dozen or so congregants, Christian and heathen, Catholic, Quaker, skeptic, straggler and regular, in rubber boots and work clothes (except for one first-grader very dapper in his tie.)
"What the heck next?"
That, Rob assured us, that was the euphemistic version. The little kids always like to ring the church bell, and that bell is considered by all to be a pleasing racket, but this time somebody made the observation that "They'd better not ring it too long or somebody will think there's a fire." We're a bit jittery these days.
For all those who believe that islands are where life is peaceful, simple, stress-free and slow, I can only say: would that it were so.
The e-mail and the telephone are busy with concerned inquiries from off-island about the fire. They ask for information I don't have…usually either what started it, which is quite irrelevant, or what the plan is now, what, when, where are "they" going to rebuild? I cannot answer. I only know with any certainty what is happening right now, day to day, and that is that everybody is doing the best they can, and people manage, and alone and together we explore options, and as islanders always do we improvise, and sometimes, we have to wait. Nothing is simple, and nothing will be fixed right away, and nobody has any expertise with this sort of thing. We haven't been through this before, but as a community we have weathered other disruptions to services (recall our sudden loss of the flying service, which delivered mail and other essentials, four years ago, before the guys at Penobscot Island Air got started.) This town has fought fires before (recall the huge fire which took out the biggest private wharf on the island, and a home, and an oil truck, in December of 1998.) Still, there are no experts here, no administrators-of-the-crisis, no trained professionals. There is…us.
For that matter, there are never all of us here, either. At least three year-round islanders who are active in community affairs, responders to all emergencies, experienced to some degree or other, and who would most certainly consider themselves "volunteer firefighters" were off the island at the time, for various good reasons. Those who just happen to be here on any given, sorry, frantic day are the fire department. That cannot be altered. From time to time the bureaucrats ask the town office flunky (me) to list the fire department members. No, sir, it cannot be done.
The fire which took out the newly renovated post office, one man's apartment and everything he owned, the almost-ready new store, and a historical collection was the big kahuna, but it was actually only the largest of a long list of reasons to be anxious, to be tired, to be a little bit gun-shy. We're walking around sort of…ready to duck. There was the sudden untimely death, and island funeral, of a Matinicus native living out of state; there has been a rapid-fire succession of illnesses, injuries, surgeries, and assorted personal disappointments and aggravations. Bad news seems to come like a pack of dogs around here. The Ladies Aid has called the flower shop an awful lot lately. Everybody on the island's got a headache. The same people have had to respond to too many things, without respite.
So, Rob read to us from Ecclesiastes, and one of the small children asked what "Ecclesiastes" meant, and shyly, imperfectly, as we were so few in number, we sang. We sang a couple of traditional churchy hymns, of the comforting (not the militant) variety, but we are not a "churchy" group. We sang "Joyful, Joyful," and then we sang "Morning Has Broken," and then we sang "Silent Night." It was an act of defiance. The people of Matinicus are good at defiance.
Eva Murray sings in the basement of the alto range on Matinicus Island