The Quarantined Family

COVID-19 is keeping us apart. We’ve stopped having religious meetings. We’ve canceled concerts and cultural events. Children are staying home from school. We’re not going out to eat. Nobody is hanging out in bars or coffee shops. Sports teams aren’t playing anymore. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I live, public officials have taken down all the basketball nets in every city park. We’re not even having traditional weddings or funerals. But that’s not the whole story.

In the middle of this turmoil, some people are getting much closer. Suddenly, people who live together are only seeing one another. The concept of family ties is taking on a whole new meaning.

Since my college closed, I’ve gotten to experience three different living arrangements. My first week of self-quarantine was spent with my roommate. For some, this setup can be very stressful. I was stuck in a house with someone who was a complete stranger less than a year earlier. Thankfully, we got along very well. We’ve perfected the art of giving each other personal space. At least I think so.

The next week, I got to experience another now-common living arrangement. Pre-quarantine, I would have said it sounded like reality TV. A family comes together from their separate adult lives. They are forced to spend life in one house with no outside contact until someone cracks. Strangely enough, this is now real life for many of us.

In week two of isolation, I drove from Maine down to Pennsylvania. I found myself sharing a house with my parents, three adult siblings and my grandmother. It was a marked change from having my own apartment. No one cracked, but there did seem to be more drama than usual. For the most part, my family was happy to see me. I was happy to eat my mom’s cooking again.

My family handled my presence heroically. “It’s maybe not as different as you might expect,” my brother Wayne told me. He seems to be holding up well under added family interaction. “In a lot of ways, it’s the same – except with more time,” he said.

In week three, my quarantine shuffle continued. I found an apartment where I could better work from home. I moved in. I now live completely alone. I live only a few blocks away from my parents. My brother James and his wife live a few more blocks away. Being a family in this time has taken on a new meaning. We’ve walked to one another’s houses to leave food on the porch. Sometimes we will stand outside just to talk from a safe distance. And my family has created the long-avoided group chat.

I’ve lived far away from my family for years. Now I’m very close to them, but we never really meet. It is truly a strange time. Now, more than ever, adaptability is key. Technology has often been called an enemy of relationships. Now, it seems to be holding some relationships together. I regularly see my family members on Zoom game nights. Wayne seemed hopeful about the role of the internet in isolation social life. “I think people are being more purposeful,” he said of online interactions.

Empty playground equipment behind my new apartment.

I agree. This is the time to finally create a meaningful online presence. We all know people who are alone or living with people they don’t always want to talk to. The times are unusual. We have to be different from usual. Create a new version of family. Find new ways to connect with friends. Find someone to vent to if you need to vent. Taking the initiative to reach out to somebody can help us all. It’s not easy, but we can do it.

Virtual Comfort

Josh Tate considers himself an introvert. As such, self-quarantine doesn’t strike him as too bad. There’s a part of him that really doesn’t mind being in isolation. But he is also what he calls a “professional extrovert.” Tate is a pastor at State Road Advent Christian Church in Mapleton, Maine. “I think being a pastor is irreducibly relational,” Tate says.

Rapid policy changes in response to COVID-19 have caused upheaval in most sectors of life. Churches and other houses of worship find themselves in particularly strange circumstances.

State Road held its last normal Sunday service on March 15. During the service, Tate told worshippers that the church planned to keep meeting. By the middle of the next week, however, plans had totally changed. State Road canceled all church meetings.

Dale Charles is co-pastor of Ignite Church of Lancaster in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Ignite Church is a small, urban congregation. Charles described a similar change of plans. “When the coronavirus started coming, we decided we were going to have church anyway,” Charles said. “The next Sunday, we had double attendance because of other churches shutting down.” Charles hadn’t expected that surge. By the next Sunday, they too had canceled services.

Dale Charles at his new pulpit.

Many churches have started to livestream their services. Ignite Church worshippers have met via YouTube Live. The technology was glitchy at times. Lags and pauses complicated their simple Bible study. Charles wasn’t very happy with the setup.

State Road is much larger than Ignite Church. State Road has more resources available. The church recently spent around $2,000 to improve its streaming setup.

Sunday services are only a small part of church life. Pastoral visitation cannot continue. Children’s clubs are canceled. Pastors cannot meet with people they are advising. Church buildings sit empty. In times of upheaval, many people seek help from the church. In this situation, they can’t. At least, they can’t do it in traditional ways.

Charles has started calling and texting his church members regularly. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment for him, but he wants to keep checking in. He feels that he hasn’t cultivated online relationships very well in the past. He is trying to quickly strengthen his digital communication skills. “I’ve tended to see technology as a business tool, and not great for relationships,” Charles said. He’s trying to be more personable in texts and calls.

Tate has joined Facebook. He is using his statuses and posts to stay connected with his church members. He is doing much more phone conversation than before. In the absence of children’s clubs, he is using Facebook to encourage parents to fill these roles with their children. Tate sees these measures as ways to tide the congregation over. He looks forward to seeing his parishioners in person again. “My job is to be in relationships with people,” Tate said. “That’s made very difficult by isolation.”

Tate’s job itself is in an unusual position. “I want to work hard and earn my living – and I can’t do my job,” Tate said. As a full-time pastor, he has nothing else to fall back on. Tate has encouraged church members to consider redirecting their usual giving to needy members of the community instead of to the church. State Road also continues to employ its janitors. They now clean the empty building.

As co-pastor of a small church, Charles also works as an auto mechanic to support himself. This business is considered essential, but it has slowed down. Charles hopes to take this extra time to connect one-on-one with his church members.

Both pastors see hope in the situation. Charles senses a new thoughtfulness in his city. He hopes that he can use his extra time to help people. And even in uncertain times, Tate feels support by his community. “I think people are extending a lot of grace because of the current situation,” he said. It is the hope of both pastors that they can still bless their communities. They believe there is a purpose even in this crisis. All we have to do is find it.

Journalism and the Fight for Freedom

Does journalism matter? Isn’t it just a bunch of opinions? These are very modern and pertinent questions. They aren’t new, though. Americans have been asking these questions as long as journalism has existed. Looking into the past can add more light to current situations. History has a lot to say on the topic.

Scene from All the President’s Men.

Alan J. Pakula directed the 1976 film “All the President’s Men.” The film explores these same questions many are asking in modern society. It is based on the experiences of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Woodward and Bernstein were reporters for the Washington Post. Together they brought the Watergate conspiracy to light. They showed that then-president Richard Nixon had hired people to dig up dirt on his political opponents. He wanted to rig the election so that he would be reelected.

Bernstein and Woodward stumble onto the case. At first, they think they are simply writing about a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. They soon realize that something much bigger and stranger is going on.

The film follows the reporters’ struggle to find facts on Watergate. They encounter hostility everywhere they go. They have to risk their careers, their reputations and even their lives.

Ben Bradlee was the editor of the Washington Post at the time this took place. In one tense scene he explains to Bernstein and Woodward the importance of their story. “Not that there’s a lot riding on this,” he says. “Only the First Amendment and Freedom of the Press and maybe the future of our democracy.”

The film shows how these two men were able to take down a huge government conspiracy ring. They showed how powerful telling the truth can be. In their reporting, they exposed some of the threats that attack fair elections. Many of these threats still exist today.

This sense of urgency is felt throughout the film. It shows how important it is to journalists to get the story right. This is especially valuable today. Journalists are facing more hate than ever before. Many have accused journalists of not caring about truth. The Washington Post’s response in this situation is great. Its staff members were committed to making sure their facts were correct. It’s a powerful reminder of the high ethical standards brave journalists follow.

The high stakes involved make the film captivating to watch. You’ll see Woodward and Bernstein as they follow every possible lead to find information. You’ll see them begging for information in bizarre meetings. You’ll see them going into dark parking garages to meet mysterious informants. You’ll see them piecing together clues. And you’ll see them discover a plot more sinister than they’d ever imagined. You’ll get to see a truly great moment in U.S. history.

Revelation Now

John Geoghan was a Catholic priest in Massachusetts. In the opening scene of the film “Spotlight,” he is arrested by Boston police for molesting children. But instead of being prosecuted, he is released. The police are told not to let the story out to the press. A bishop meets with the family of the abused children. He persuades them that this is an unusual occurrence. He tells them that Geoghan is a fluke. He’s just a bad seed in a good organization.

Unfortunately, Geoghan’s case wasn’t unusual. He was just one of many priests in Boston who sexually abused children. Church officials transferred Geoghan to another parish. He molested boys there, too.

It’s a harsh story. It’s difficult to tell anywhere. But it’s particularly difficult to tell in a city like Boston. Boston is home to powerful Catholic organizations. The Church has influence all over the city. Clergymen exert pressure everywhere, from the courts to the business world. The Church’s disapproval can damage your reputation. It can ruin your career. Many people believe that going against the church can have bad consequences in the next life. In Boston, it can have consequences now.

“Spotlight” is mostly set in Boston in 2001. The film follows the work of the Spotlight team. Robby Robinson, Mike Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer and Matt Carroll make up the team. They are journalists who do investigative work for the Boston Globe. They dig into some new information on the Geoghan case. As they work, they discover there is much more at stake than one case.

The Spotlight team members uncover many more stories of abuse than they had expected. As they dig deeper, they are met with resistance from many Bostonians. People don’t want the Church to be defamed. Many people encourage the reporters to forget the story. Their reputations and careers are threatened. All the reporters have Catholic backgrounds. Though they are lapsed, their findings unsettle them. Some of them experience a crisis of faith.

The story begins to consume both the reporters’ personal and professional lives. They have to do the tedious work of compiling data by hand. They are overwhelmed by the stories of victims. The film picks up pace with the story. The investigation becomes a blur of numbers, names, meetings and court documents. The Spotlight team becomes convinced that there is a system of cover-ups at place in the Catholic Church.  And then the 9/11 attacks threaten to put the story on hold indefinitely.

Thankfully, the Spotlight team remains committed to revealing the truth. By telling a good story, the reporters are able to force the Church to reckon with its wrongdoing. This film reminds us that good journalism is still important in the 21st century.

“Spotlight” is not an easy film, but it feels necessary. It tackles difficult themes. You’ll feel the pain of victims. You’ll feel the righteous anger of the reporters. You’ll taste the frustration of advocates as the process drags on. And it’s almost impossible not to be moved in the closing scene. After the story is published, the Spotlight office is flooded with calls from victims who finally feel able to talk about their experiences. You’ll be inspired by the power of truth.

150 Years of County History Preserved

It’s getting harder to move around the library’s special collections room at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. It’s for a good reason, though. The central hallway is filled with stacks up to five feet high of huge, hardcover books.  These books are bound newspapers, part of two recent donations to the UMPI library.

Last spring, Roger Getz, director of library services at UMPI, heard that the Aroostook County Commissioner’s Office was seeking a new home for some of its archives. The main attraction in these archives was an extensive collection of Aroostook County newspapers. The collection started in the 1860s and continued until the 1990s. There were also photographs and paintings.

Getz felt that the UMPI library would be an ideal place for these archives. The library already had a lot of information on local history. He took a trip to the commissioner’s office and made his pitch. It wasn’t a hard sell.

County Administrator Ryan Pelletier wasn’t happy with the way the archives were being stored. They were hard to get to and use. Some of the items were beginning to deteriorate. “Roger reached out to us with a great presentation,” he said. “Presque Isle is a good central location.”

Pelletier hopes the move will make the collection more accessible. “It’s history that could have been lost,” he said. “People didn’t even know it existed.” He pointed out that many of the documents aren’t anywhere else in Maine.

Library staff members worked hard to organize the new resources.  They shifted the whole UMPI collection to make space. It seemed like the new arrivals would fit. But that was before the second donation came.

Northeast Publishing was Aroostook County’s main newspaper publisher. It was changing facilities and could no longer keep its collection of old papers. UMPI received this gift on short notice. “We were not anticipating the donation from Northeast Publishing,” Getz said. Once again, space was a problem.

The new materials are definitely not a problem, though. This collection of newspapers is much more current. It fills the time gap left by the other donation. “We now have a newspaper history of Aroostook from the mid-1860s to the present,” Getz said.

These resources are already proving useful. Faculty and community members have already used the papers for research. They have been used to fact-check claims of high school sports achievements. It will also be a great resource for UMPI students doing projects on local history. “It’s extremely relevant to this direct area,” Getz said. He pointed out that even advertising was recorded. This could be used in studies of County business history.

At present, library staff members are working to create enough space to make the volumes readily accessible. It’s not an easy task. The library has a small staff. They need to sort and move older news files. They need to shift more books and shelves. They need to install new shelves. They need to organize the new donations. They need to count and catalogue the new materials. And that’s on top of keeping the library running. Getz said it could take more than a year to fully finish the process.

In the meantime, the newspapers can be accessed. It will be exciting to see how people will use these resources. Hopefully this new level of opportunity will inspire new levels of creativity and research. Persons interested in using the papers should see Getz at the library.

Roger Getz shows off UMPI_s newest resource, archived newspapers.

A Glimpse of Life: The Pulitzer Photographs

“A Glimpse of Life” is a film about the Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalism. The prize is awarded to a someone who does outstanding photo reporting. It highlights some notable winners and their photos. The film shows images from the 1940s to the 2000s.

“It’s not a photography contest. It’s about telling some of the biggest stories of the year,” prize winner William Snyder said. Winning photos have many of the same elements as a great news story. They are relevant, prominent and, above all, interesting. These pictures must tell a compelling story.

One of the first pictures the film highlights is a photo of Iwo Jima. It is one of the most iconic pictures ever taken. Joe Rosenthal took it in 1945. It shows some U. S. Marines raising the flag. They are surrounded by rubble. The picture was taken in the middle of the process. The soldiers appear worn out, but together they raise the flag. It’s a moment of brightness in a horrible war. The depiction of heroism and camaraderie continues to inspire.

Many Pulitzer winners didn’t portray the U. S. Army so positively. Eddie Adams won for Saigon Execution in 1968. It was a controversial picture. It shows a man being shot in the head. You can see the impact of the shot on his head. He is clearly a prisoner of war, being killed by soldiers. The soldiers were backed by the United States. The raw nature of this photo shocked people. It made a clear point about the injustices of the Vietnam War.

These injustices don’t only happen abroad. Pulitzer winners have explored the same themes on U.S. soil. John Paul Filo’s picture of the Kent State shooting is outstanding example. It shows a young woman crying over a dead man. She is kneeling beside the body with her hands in the air. He is face down on the pavement. The photo captures the tragedy of a life cut short. It shows the brutality of the U. S. government against its own people.

Other prize winners covered famines and natural disasters. William Snyder photographed orphanages in Romania in the 1990s. His pictures tell a story of neglect. One of his prizewinning photos shows a malnourished child in a crib. The room is almost empty. Only a doll is looking on. And the child isn’t much larger than the doll.

Not all prizes are given to work about wars and killings. John White won the Pulitzer in 1982. He made a series of photographs of life in inner-city Chicago. One striking photo shows a boy running in a hallway. His school had no track, so the children ran races in the halls. “They ran with their hearts – that’s why they’re state champs,” White said. Blacks in the city lived a life completely different from the rest of the country. White shone a light on their experiences.

Many of these photojournalists risked their lives. They witnessed deeply disturbing things. Some of them seem haunted by what they’ve seen. But they all love the craft.

“It’s an honor to be a journalist,” Stan Grossfeld said. “If I care about something, I can make half a million people care.”

“It’s a front seat to history,” John White said.

Photojournalism is a powerful tool. These pictures have a physicality and immediacy that written stories cannot capture. They arouse emotion. They stir the soul.  There is, as Carol Guzy said, “something about that still moment in time that does touch people.”

John White said it well. “Everyone has a story. And we sing their song. If we don’t do it – if the journalist doesn’t do it – who’s going to do it?”

Photo by Carol Guzy.