We’ve been surprised this winter, everywhere we go, to see crowds of people jamming themselves into library basements to hear concerts, cramming into town board rooms to make their voices heard and taking to the beaches in droves to raise money to help our neighbors in need.
The message we’re taking from this is pretty clear: We are all on deck ready to rebuild a community made more resilient by our brush with the worst of Covid-19.
From our perch on the outskirts of one of the first epicenters of the pandemic, it’s been difficult to see the full picture of what we’ve endured now for nearly three years.
While buoyed by an influx of stimulus money, the backbone of our local economy, based on gathering with friends in celebration, has been severely strained. This spring and summer season will be the real tell of which longtime businesses have maintained a solid enough footing to stay with us for the long haul.
We have already lost many treasures among our local businesses, and the strain of inflation and worker shortages is not sparing them anything.
While many people have long championed industrial development in Riverhead as an answer to our need for good-paying jobs here, recent developments there show we’re more likely to be seeing fulfillment warehouses and the low-paying jobs that come with them than aerospace research and development. This is not helping our workforce.
The exodus from New York that began as the empty city filled with sirens in the spring of 2020 has proved a permanent change to the landscape of the East End. We often hear of the negatives — the ever-upward trend of real estate prices, of new neighbors every six months, of teardowns and rebuilds on either side of our modest midcentury homes, of longtime neighbors and friends who’ve given in and headed south.
But what is still here is beginning to gel. The new neighbors who’ve stayed have embraced the reasons they came here and brought their capable skill sets to help those of us already here with the task of saving what’s left. When they start signing up in larger numbers to volunteer as firefighters and EMS providers, we’ll know they truly have arrived.
The need to ensure access to affordable housing has never been more broadly understood, and we’ve created some of the most powerful tools, through the Community Housing Fund, to help bring that goal into reach. We need to all be on board with making a place for people who want to work and raise their families here.
Down at Truman Beach in East Marion on the last Sunday in January, we saw a great example of this spirit. A hefty crew of local emergency volunteers brought their ambulances and boats and water rescue crews as hundreds of people, many of them new transplants to the North Fork, jumped into the Long Island Sound to help CAST provide emergency assistance to our neighbors in need. This is the true spirit of this place.
Theaters proved to be among the most fragile of the pandemic’s many victims. When our homes became massive entertainment centers, they filled the niche in our lives that had once belonged to movie houses, concert halls and live theater venues.
But the enthusiasm with which the community has come together to revive the Greenport Theater is a heartening sign that we’ve decided that community hubs for the arts are vital and necessary.
It’s through art that we’ll process the times we’ve lived through, and the times in which we are living. The vivid expression of our inner worlds — on canvas and board, out into the air in the universal language of music, spoken, written or played out by a skilled collaboration out on the silver screen — is an unbreakable connection between the artist and their audience.
It’s our collective experience, and our personal one as well. Have you lost a friend or three? Is your answering machine filled with messages from people who will never leave a message again? How do you paint the empty space and time that was filled by their phone calls and letters, their own stamp on the time they were here, which is now past? Please tell us their passing was a tragedy, not simply a statistic.
And yes, yes, yes, let’s celebrate that we are still here. The memory of all that has passed is a blessing. And the future is an empty canvas. Let’s fill it all up. We’re ready to build the future.