Bob Neal

We probably can’t blame COVID-19 entirely for unraveling our sense(s) of community, but it might be safe to say that the pandemic has speeded and intensified the decline.

Still, as we near our annual orgy of grace and gluttony, we have a lot for which to be thankful. Most of all, I’m grateful for communities that keep on keeping on through it all.

First, though, our fading communities. Unintentional communities have been declining for years. Unintentional communities are those to which we belong without choosing. Such as place of residence, schools, church (in most cases).

Our small towns and some of our cities are losing population. The 2020 census shows Wilton down 261, Farmington 168. Rural school enrollment is down. In 1989, when I joined the School Administrative District 9 board, Mount Blue High School had 1,100 pupils in three grades. Now, it has 675 in four grades.

Traditional churches teeter on the edge. Neither New Sharon church (Methodist, United Church of Christ) has a pastor. An already tiny church nearby lost three people to death in six weeks this year. Young people aren’t refilling the pews.

Back to a sunnier side. The fourth Thursday of every November, I pause to consider and offer thanks for the beacons of the past year. The offerings for 2021.

The spotlight has moved on from the Bangor Troop Greeters, but they haven’t moved on. Last week, the Troop Greeters observed the 30th anniversary of the first time they turned out at Bangor International Airport to welcome returning troops and to wish bon voyage to departing troops. More than 1.5 million troops have been met by the greeters.

The greeters’ work was logged in 2009 in the movie, “The Way We Get By,” telling the Troop Greeters’ story through the eyes of Bill Knight, Jerry Mundy and Joan Gaudet. Past 70 when the film was made, all three have died. (Joan Gaudet was the mother of one of the filmmakers.)

For 30 years of the Bangor Troop Greeters serving our military community and for the core that centers many Mainers like them, I give thanks.

The heat in June knocked out our water system. I called Goodwin Well & Water in Turner on a Saturday, and Goodwin’s said a tech could come out Monday. (I ruled out a weekend service because of overtime rates.) I told Goodwin’s the pressure tank was shot.

When the tech came on Monday, he had no replacement tank on his truck. Had to wait a day for that. With my payment, I sent Goodwin a letter recounting my experience. Scott Abbotts, president of Goodwin, sent a check for the full $450 labor charge. That was excessive, and I told him so when I sent back half the money.

For reliable, conscientious local businesses serving their communities, as exemplified by Goodwin, I give thanks.

Few people foresaw a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa. Let alone that there might have been a chance of building a community of all South Africans. Zulu. Bantu. Boer. South Asian. English. Certainly not I, who had studied Africa in graduate school.

Never say never. News came on Nov. 11 of the death of F.W. de Klerk, the Boer prime minister who in 1990 freed Nelson Mandela and became deputy president to Mandela in 1994 under universal suffrage. Under Mandela and de Klerk, South Africa undertook a truth-and-reconciliation process that may lead to a merged community of South Africa.

For leaders such as de Klerk, who see error and use their power for good, I give thanks.

Basketball season has begun, and I’ve been on four college campuses in the past 12 days. At UMaine games in Orono and Bangor, at the University of New England and at the University of Southern Maine, everyone must show a vaccination card and must wear a mask full-time indoors. At Bowdoin, gatekeepers also check photo IDs, too, likely because of reports of people selling fake vaccination cards.

The result of the vigilance is clear. On Thursday, the UMaine system reported 13 new cases in the past 14 days among the roughly 30,000 people who work or study on its campuses, even as infections soar in Maine. CNN used the UMaine system last month as an example of the correct way to handle the pandemic.

For colleges and universities holding their communities together through a tough time, I give thanks.

Never did I believe I would be grateful for anyone named Cheney. But U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, is making me rethink. She is among a handful of Republican members of Congress who recognize that the hard-right of their party poses an existential threat to everything we believe in as Americans.

As her fellow conservative Andrew Sullivan — for whom I haven’t always held the highest regard — told “60 Minutes” on Sunday, “We can fight over (disagreements) but not debate each other’s good faith or character or dismiss people because of their race or sex or whatever. We can leave all that behind and be citizens arguing, reasoning. Deliberating is what the founders called it. If we’re not (deliberating), this system will fail as it’s already failing.”

For conservatives who put our national community first, I give thanks.

Bob Neal has always loved Thanksgiving. Maybe that explains why he farmed turkeys for 30 years. And why he has a chronic problem with morphology. Neal can be reached at [email protected].

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