An end is in sight to what has been a long spring for people across Maine.
As the economy slowly reopens after the shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Mainers have milestones to look forward to: a few select stores this month, larger gatherings and restaurants in June, bars and lodging businesses in July, and possibly schools in September if all goes well.
But while the end hasn’t arrived yet, and we’re still cooped up for now, that doesn’t mean we haven’t started thinking about when life will begin to resemble what it was before.
Even Maine’s most well-known residents are looking forward to life after COVID-19.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has become something of an internet celebrity for his knowledge and demeanor during the crisis. Although still relatively new to Maine, he has become the face and voice for trying to understand and move past the virus.
“I’d really like to explore more of Maine,” Shah said when asked what he is looking forward to once life returns to normal. “I’d like to check out more of the state’s lighthouses and travel to Aroostook County to eat poutine there.”
Shah’s boss and frequent partner on the Maine CDC’s daily coronavirus updates, Gov. Janet Mills, expressed a desire probably shared by many of her constituents.
“Like many Maine people, I most miss spending time with my kids and grandkids, especially as milestones like birthdays pass us by,” Mills said in a statement provided to the Phoenix by her office. “While I get to see them over Zoom or FaceTime, and hear their voices over the phone, nothing can replace the hug of a grandchild. That is what I look forward to the most when we are able to come together again.”
Another famous Mainer, perhaps the most famous of them all, recently took to social media to pine for something he misses being able to do and hopes to one day do again. Best-selling author Stephen King, who declined to be interviewed for this story, said he misses going to the movies.
“God, how I wish I could go to a movie tonight,” King tweeted May 1. “Popcorn, Junior Mints, big old soda, sitting in the third row and watching some action flick or goofball comedy. I’d love that.”
During her first year leading the Portland City Council, Mayor Kate Snyder has been quick to remind residents she is still learning the ropes. And there was no bigger crash course in learning how to govern than having to face a pandemic that required stay-at-home orders and closing nonessential businesses.
Snyder, undoubtedly like all the residents she governs, said she remains hopeful for the time when life returns to a state of normalcy, although she said that remains a “big question.”
“I think I’m a realist in the sense that nothing will happen overnight,” Snyder said. “But I’m optimistic because I think we will get a vaccine. It will just take a while.”
In the meantime, the mayor said she misses some of the little things she and her family could do before staying at home became the daily grind. She said while she’s not “a huge extrovert or party person,” she misses being able to have gatherings with friends and family. Or being able to go to a restaurant.
Snyder said while she was never a big concert-goer, she also misses being able to go to a few shows at Thompson’s Point each year.
“I don’t go to crowded beaches, I don’t miss movie theaters,” she said. “But simple, everyday things like getting into a car with friends and carpooling.”
Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said he misses the “rhythm of everyday life in the school district.” He announced in early April the district would close schools for the remainder of the school year following the pandemic.
“I miss the face-to-face conversations with people about the most important topics and the most mundane ones,” Botana said. “Most of all, I miss being around our students. This is most clear to me when I do have an opportunity to talk with them as part of our zoom meetings and I get to hear about their experiences and what’s going well and what’s not going so well.”
Botana said he is still looking forward to celebrating the accomplishments of the graduating senior class, which started high school at the same time he was hired as the city’s top school administrator.
“I was excited to be able to celebrate with them in person,” Botana said. “And if it’s not in June, I hope it’s in August.”
Portland Police Chief Frank Clark, who was sworn into the job last September, said he is most focused on leading his department through the pandemic crisis and getting back to work.
“Part of that work will include getting back out into the community, fostering our old and building new partnerships, and focusing on finalizing and implementing the strategic plan that will help guide us over the next five years,” Clark said.
On a personal level, Clark said the past year brought several changes for him, all of which were made more complicated by the pandemic.
“I look forward to doing many of those things that I enjoyed pre-pandemic, most of which are compatible with social distancing …,” he said via email. “Spending time with family, hiking, biking, motorcycling, and I even might try to take up golf, again. We’ll see.”
One thing that has not taken time off during the COVID-19 crisis is the news, and few media members are as recognizable as those on television.
Keith Carson, a meteorologist for NewsCenter Maine, is one of the more well-known television personalities in the region. Carson tried to find the humor of the situation when thinking about what he misses most about life before the pandemic.
“Being able to stand only 5 feet away from (NewsCenter Maine Chief Meteorologist Todd) Gutner’s window while playing ‘In Your Eyes’ on my boombox,” Carson said via email.
He also joked about what he’s looking forward to in a post-COVID-19 world.
“Watching the sudden explosion of ‘epidemiologists’ on Twitter return to their previous expert role as climatologists,” Carson said.
Award-winning author Ron Currie Jr., who lives in Portland, said he and his wife already worked from home and remain healthy, so they have little to complain about. But he still has plenty to miss – although it isn’t a trip to the movies or going to a restaurant.
Instead, the author of “Everything Matters!” and “The One-Eyed Man” said he misses the belief that all people, no matter their political affiliations, held “a fundamental sense of collective purpose.” He also hopes for a time when people would treat “complex problems with the seriousness of mind and intent that they demand, and not resort to partisan thumb-sucking the very moment things got even moderately hard.”
“Mostly, though, I miss the hope that fact and reason and decency would somehow, someday reassert themselves; that we would learn once more how to have disagreements, and work through them, like goddamn adults; that in short we would stop believing we know every goddamn thing about every goddamn thing and acknowledge that we’re all just scared and confused and fumbling around on the best of days, and could use each others’ help,” Currie said.
He said he no longer believes any of that to be possible, and misses “holding out hope, however meager, that it was and could.”
Currie said he doesn’t see a situation in which life returns to the normalcy we all knew before the pandemic. He said that narrative can be harmful, pointing to people “running around statehouses in their Walmart tactical gear if they hadn’t been promised two weeks of slight inconvenience followed by an immediate and seamless return to ‘normal.’
“Anyway, what I’m looking forward to doing again, whenever it becomes possible, among many other things, is being able to go for a run without having to weave wildly around as though every human being I encounter is made of depleted uranium,” Currie said. “Modest hopes, I think, are the order of the day.”