Home > About > Bill Peak's Library Column > COVID-19, Our Community, and the Library
As I write this, a dear friend lies dying in the hospital. A man with a ready smile, a warm intelligence, a self-deprecating sense of humor, and a firm commitment—based upon faith—to serve his community, this man is not my friend alone, he is Talbot County's. I will not name names here, he would not want all the fuss and bother, but many I'm sure will know whom I speak of. And I'm equally sure they would agree with me that this man and his beautiful wife, working entirely as volunteers, have done more for our community than many of us who are paid a salary to serve. If he goes, as it now seems likely he will, I shall miss him heartily. I always dreamt that, one day, he and I would get to go fishing together. I guess that will never happen now.
All death is, of course, sad—opportunities lost, potential unrealized, who knows how much more good this man might have done?—but there is an additional sadness attached to this man's end. His was one of the great marriages. No one could look at this man and his wife together, the way they communicated across a meeting room table without ever saying a word, the quiet smiles they shared, the way they couldn't even bicker without having fun doing it, without knowing how much they loved and cared for each other. You looked upon them and it gave you hope. But now he lies dying and, thanks to COVID-19, he lies dying alone. She cannot be with him.
I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I love our community. I ache for our community at a time like this. This man and woman were both a part of our community and part of another, smaller community: their own union. That they should be parted at the end constitutes, I think, a blow to any and all sense of community, our understanding of what a community is, what it means to love and care for one another. We cannot let this dreadful disease destroy what is most vital to us, our friendships, our marriages, the institutions we have created for the community at large, our churches, our schools, our libraries, the businesses large and small that unite us one to another.
Think of all the high school seniors who have been cheated out of their graduation ceremonies, a prom, their final spring baseball season. Think of all the marriages planned for June, the mothers sitting in their dens, shaking their heads over caterers' menus, wondering if any of it will ever happen; their daughters beside them, dreaming of their beaux, the honeymoons they had so carefully planned. Think of all the children trapped at home who can't understand why they can't go out and play with their friends anymore. And, finally, think of all the people who are reaching the end of life's journey, facing that last day alone, deprived of those they love by an entity they cannot see, cannot even imagine.
And now I do know where I am going with this. We are these people's friends, neighbors, teachers, and family. We must not let them down. We must find a way to build community around them, to blanket them with the sort of affection and support they expected to experience when they reached these milestones in their lives. I'm not sure what the schools are planning for their graduation ceremonies, or the mothers for their daughters' weddings, but I do know that the Talbot County Free Library is doing everything in its power to reach out to the people of Talbot County, to provide them with the information and services required to navigate this crisis.
By way of example, let me just talk about what we're offering those parents desperate to keep their children happy and engaged at home. Visiting the library's homepage (www.tcfl.org), those parents will find a wealth of programming for their children. There's Live Story Time for preschoolers on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. On Wednesdays at 3 p.m., there's a Live Read Along program for elementary school-aged children. If they click on the “Creative Fun for Kids at Home” photograph, they'll be taken to an entire page full of links to fun and/or educational programs for children. And, finally, this coming Saturday, June 13, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Talbot County Free Library will host the 5th annual Chesapeake Children's Book Festival virtually, on the library's Facebook page. Parents can check the Festival's homepage (https://chesapeakechildrensbookfestival.com/index.html) to find out about the children's book authors who will be giving live readings from their books during the day. I'm particularly excited about Charlotte Bennardo, whose middle grade children's books have some of the most beautiful, some of the most enchanting, book covers I've ever seen.
After I finished writing the first paragraphs of this column, I received an email notifying me of the death of my friend. He's gone now and can't rag me for publicizing his name. Eric Lowery passed away peacefully on Tuesday, May 12. He was a Talbot County stalwart, the man whose quiet dignity calmed the waters so that, as a community, we might come together to erect a statue of Frederick Douglass on the courthouse lawn. Eric's beloved wife, Harriette, was only able to be with him at the end via FaceTime. Still, she was with him. I'm told Eric showed that he recognized her, and how much he loved her, by blinking into the phone. In this way, they said goodbye to one another.
Of course Talbot County, being Talbot County, immediately wanted to reach out to Harriette, comfort her in her grief. And when they want to do something they care deeply about, our people find a way. On Saturday afternoon, May 16, from one o'clock to two, Harriette and the rest of her family stood out in front of the Douglass statue that Eric made possible on our courthouse lawn. Maintaining social distancing, all of us that loved Eric then drove in happy procession down Washington Street, past the courthouse, waving and throwing kisses to Harriette and the rest of his family. This is the way we love one another in Talbot County, Maryland.
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