It has been several weeks since I packed up and left Colby College two months prematurely because of coronavirus. I’ve spent much of my time sitting at my parents’ house trying to focus on my classes, which moved online.

But my mind keeps wandering to Barb Bailey and her friend Al, and the realization from my interactions with them that there’s always a crisis, always a problem that needs to be solved, and that the root of all responses to crises — be it coronavirus or climate change — is community.

Barb is a member of the Victor Grange, and as a lead volunteer for WindowDressers in central Maine she helps Mainers increase energy efficiency by leading community “builds” of low-cost weatherized windows.

I met her when I was doing research for a climate storytelling project, a collaboration between Maine filmmaker Charlie Stuart and the Buck Lab for Climate and Environment at Colby College.

My first encounter with Barb was at the Grange in Fairfield Center, where she welcomed me as if I were her neighbor. Unlike in my other interviews, we didn’t talk much about greenhouse gas emissions or the increasing temperature of the Gulf of Maine, but I could tell that she knew a lot about energy efficiency, weatherization, and climate change. 

She took me up to the attic to discuss insulation and told me to be careful as she gracefully avoided nails and glided along the thin beam, with me crawling on my hands and knees behind her.

She told me a story about how she had spent four years trying to get Al, who is now 96, to have weatherized windows inserted so that his house would be warmer. Al used to sleep by the radiator and Barb couldn’t stand it, but Al was old school and didn’t want any help. Barb insisted until finally Al installed the windows and Barb was able to rest easy knowing her friend was warm.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that experience and wondering how I can reflect Barb’s empathy, kindness, and action in the wider community. With COVID-19, for the first time in my young life our neighbors, communities, and nation are truly all in this together.

For many people this is an existential crisis, and it’s imperative for all of us as a community to help combat that crisis with responsible, empathetic and individual action. We have always been linked through the steps we take as individuals, and now that link is especially evident.

We can do something positive. Not just during these weeks aimed at flattening the curve, but in the weeks and months ahead, as we aim to reset our world and take action on public health with a better understanding of community and of what it means to be vulnerable.

Barb Bailey is an integral member of grassroots climate action in Maine, yet she never talks about it that way. She doesn’t really see the need, I suppose. Barb is more concerned with making sure the Grange can host weekly dinners for community members and that her friends have a warm house to rest in.

Right now we are all stuck in that attic at the Grange. It’s uncomfortable, it’s hot, and we cannot stand up like we used to, but this will pass and when it does it will be because we were there for each other.

Conor Larkin is an environmental policy major at Colby College and expects to graduate this May.


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