In the fall of 2007 I walked up the stairs to the editor’s office of the Bangor Daily News to discuss the possibility of writing an article or two on Antarctica, where I had just been hired to work for a season. They said that if all went well, I could begin writing a weekly column. Afterward, I danced in the parking lot, all of the professionalism I had scraped together gone and replaced with sheer glee. Only later did I realize that I was parked right under the windows of the editorial offices. I’ve always wondered whether they caught that moment and had a good laugh over it or not.
In the months to come, I came to realize just what a gift I had been granted. Even though I was the farthest I had ever been from my home, living at the absolute bottom of the Earth, I had never felt closer to my home community. I loved sending stories off to the readers in my home state; the best parts, though, were all of the stories I got back — some poignant, others hilarious and many in between.
There was the young boy who sent me his lunch money, “to buy hand warmers,” he said (I sent the money back, but only after everyone on station had passed his note around — the note alone had the intended warming effect on everyone who read it). There was the farmer who e-mailed me tips for how to keep my hands from cracking in the cold. There were e-mails from former Navy men who had once lived in Antarctica themselves, decades earlier. And a letter from a father working on an oil rig, who told me that he, too, would be away from home on Christmas, but that he could read out loud to his young son every night on a radio call.
When I came home that spring, I drove around the state to visit schools and talk about Antarctica. I got the chance to see classrooms as far north as Washburn and Presque Isle and as far Down East as Machias and Lubec. A sixth-grader in a one-room schoolhouse gave me a paper she had written on penguins, her grade already circled proudly at the top. “I want you to have this,” she said.
When I moved to Baltimore last fall I was inundated with advice and friendship from readers who offered everything from their knowledge of the Maryland-D.C.-area transportation to their college roommates’ couches. Strangers invited me for coffee and dinner just because I was another person from their home state. When I wrote about training for a marathon that would raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, one woman sent me a long letter sharing her own experiences with cancer, giving me a window into something I couldn’t have begun to understand on my own.
One of the correspondences that moved me the most was in response to an article I had written about the murder of a migrant worker on the eastern shore of Maryland. Maine readers, several states away from the events I had chronicled, offered to spearhead a fundraising movement for the victim’s family. “Let us know how we can help,” they said.
If I have learned nothing else from writing this column, it has been never to lose my faith in the power of a community — the power of human kindness — and the ability of people to connect through the written word alone. In an age touted for its disconnection, I’ve had the chance to see people reach out to each other through newspapers. Its has been a fantastic reminder that no matter how busy we get, people still care.
This fall I am going to be starting school again, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. I’m starting on a new, exciting road, but not one that lends itself well to the weekly articles I’ve been writing for the last few years. So with this article, I’m closing a chapter in the epistolary relationship that I’ve enjoyed with the readers of the Bangor Daily News.
To the readers who have traveled with me from Antarctica to New Zealand, Mexico to Baltimore, Maine and back again, through the ups and downs of everything from subzero wilderness to inner-city buses: Don’t be strangers. You can continue to write to me through my website, margaret-adams.com, where I will have news about what I’m up to — new adventures, new skills and, I hope, new lessons in which people continue to impress, humble and inspire me, every day.