Director of Island Outreach Reflects on Mindfulness

Director of Island Outreach Reflects on Mindfulness

From the desk of Douglas Cornman, MA, BC-DMT, Director of Island Outreach

A few years ago, someone dear to my heart, introduced me to a creative way of measuring emotional energy. I had never heard of this particular method for gauging how a person is feeling, but, once I did, it dramatically helped me understand where their emotional barometer was at any given moment. They measured their daily allotment of energy with “spoons” much in the same way a baker measures dry ingredients for a cake. In response to my asking, “How was your day?” They might answer, “Today was rough. It took most of my spoons. I am not in the mood to talk about anything of consequence at the moment.” Conversely, doing something they enjoyed, replenished spoons. “I spent the morning painting,” they once told me. “My drawer is filled with spoons. I’m so glad that I made some time to do that.” Spoons work in both directions. We use them, but we can also get them back. I have my own set of emotional measuring spoons now. I use them to gauge how much energy I have in reserve and how much energy I think I might need to do any given task. Measuring helps me to know when to take a break and when I can keep moving along.

Being, simply put, is the active practice of not doing.

– Douglas Cornman, MA, BC-DMT

I sense that most of us are using a lot of spoons lately. Winter can sap our emotional energy in ordinary times. Facing into cold temperatures, the inability to get outside, and the lack of sunshine use up spoons that we usually need for things like getting along with others or doing the dishes. And as well we know, these are not ordinary times. I am loath to remind us, that March marks the beginning of our third year living with COVID-19. Remember back at the beginning, when we said that the pandemic would be a marathon and not a sprint. How about a double marathon, or even a triple? Continued social distancing, mask wearing, not hugging our friends, and never-ending Zooming gatherings often require our full set of spoons and then some, leaving us wondering where we are going to find the spoons needed to get us through the everyday grind.  

Last week, I met with Dr. Dan Johnson, a clinical psychologist, with whom I chat on a regular basis. Dan is an advocate for using mindfulness and meditation practices as effective ways of adding spoons to one’s collection. He mentioned the concepts of “doing” and “being” during our talk. Doing is just like it sounds. It is the act of completing a task. Doing is essential to functioning because it gets things done. We fundamentally know that we don’t function as our best selves unless we accomplish things, like attending to work or our families. We often feel better once we tick a few things off our to-do lists. Being, simply put, is the active practice of not doing. Being is spending time with our body, mind, and spirit. It is sitting with one or more aspects of ourselves and remaining present with wherever we are, at that moment in time. Being is equally essential to functioning because it allows space for clarity, which, in turn, provides us an opportunity to adjust how we behave and interact with everything around us. For better or worse, most of us are better at doing than being. Being can sometimes be seen as frivolous. It can also be scary. Given time, however, the practice of being does evolve and our feelings change. It is possible to become companions with our fears, and also ourselves. I am in no way saying that it is an easy practice. Neither am I saying that it will always be a comfortable practice. All I am saying is that it is possible.  

If, like many of us, you seem to be lacking enough spoons to make it through your day without feeling completely exhausted, try spending a small portion of it just “being.” Find a comfortable place to sit, stand, or lay down (I like sitting in the sun if its shining) and breathe. Really, that is all you have to do – just sit and breathe. Try not to think about what you are making for dinner or the Zoom call you have later in the day – just sit and breathe. Focus your attention on your breath or a bird chirping or the sound of the breeze, if you cannot clear your mind of racing thoughts. Sit and breathe. Try not to force clarity and peace and replenishing your spoon drawer. If your practice is anything like mine, those things will come in their own time. All you need to do is sit and breathe. Peace and love, my friends. May your drawer always hold enough spoons to get you through your day.

To learn more about Douglas Cornman and his programmatic work, please visit the Mission’s Island Outreach program.

Edith P. Drury – Enthusiasm for Mission Work

Edith P. Drury – Enthusiasm for Mission Work

Edith P. Drury was a Maine Seacoast Mission staffer for 20 years. The Mission archives include some of Ms. Drury’s “God’s Tugboat” newspaper columns written over many decades for Maine Coast Fisherman and National Fisherman. Through her columns, Edith left us her first-hand account of the Mission’s work (circa 1950-1960) among people and places on the mainland, along the coast, and on islands.

“When the Sunbeam starts out on a trip tomorrow to deliver Christmas gifts, we will be thankful for the gallant little oil burner, pushing heat into the radiators, warming the cabins and offering a chance to thaw icy mittens,” wrote Drury in January 1959. We don’t know precisely when Edith started and stopped writing her “God’s Tugboat” columns. The earliest date we have is 1954. She may have started writing sooner.

Drury writes of the work dangers of fishermen within the island communities. In January ’59 she tells of “the funeral of Llewellyn Lunt who died suddenly while alone in his small fishing boat.” Seven months later she shares news of an Islesford committal service “for the two lobster fishermen…lost in their boat during a March blizzard.”

There are also the hazards she and the Sunbeam III crew encountered. On a September 1960 boat trip to Monhegan Island, “The sun was out, but the sea was in turmoil, and our Sunbeam at times seemed like a cockle shell on the great, rough deep. At Monhegan, we tied up at the wharf, where the surge was so strong that jumping ashore was a gymnastic feat,” Edith said. In October 1960 there was “that day we had more than nine hours of cruising, in dense fog,” with the Sunbeam III arriving home thanks to the boat radar and the Captain’s seamanship.

Not all Edith’s columns are of hard times. She has many stories of good times. We have Edith’s 1959 description of Miss Elizabeth Rich of Isle au Haut. Miss Rich runs the local post office, takes “care of two cats and a dog,” and makes evening visits to neighbors. She also “made most of a large crochet bedspread, six batches of soap (using 36 pounds of fat), 16 baby bibs, 37 dish towels, 50 aprons, and more than 30 pairs of mittens in all sizes and colors,” writes Edith. Her column documented the ways islanders passed the time as well as everyday occurrences in their lives.

She tells us of visits to lighthouse keepers’ families and US Coast Guard station keepers’ families. These families literally kept the home lights burning to help ensure safe travels and havens to sailors, fishermen, and other water travelers. Since Drury’s days with the Mission some of these lights were automated or decommissioned. In 1960, Edith spent time with Ralph and Edith Marie Sunderlin who were living at Seguin Island Light Station with “their puppy Coastie, and their week-old baby gull.” Coastie was feeling ill, so Edith provided worm capsules. “The baby gull’s appetite was excellent,” she writes, “and we saw it gulp down a great quantity of dog food and then contentedly take a bath in the kitchen sink.” In another instance, the Harold Cummings family had three children under three years old and were keepers at Ram Island Light where “things are easier now that the station is electrified.” Edith also visited with the Cliff Meadows family, including “the new baby girl, two months old,” at Cuckolds Light Station. “Anyone who thinks that light keepers don’t have much to keep them busy had better take a paintbrush, paddle out to Cuckolds and stay a while!” she writes.

Ms. Drury was dedicated to all areas of the Mission’s work. A 1987 Mission Resolution honoring her said, in part, “For over twenty years, Edith shared her faith with the people of Down East Maine. She visited over fifty mainland schools and twenty island schools, working with the children, devising contests, recreational activities, and reading programs. She distributed garden seeds and plants in the schools and encouraged the children to plant gardens.”

“Her enthusiasm for the work could be felt when reading the God’s Tugboat column…. Edith’s name and the memory of her caring ministry have been the subject of many conversations in the little homes of coastal Maine and will continue so for some time to come.”

That is still true in 2022.

The Mission boat and its crew is still active today, now aboard the Sunbeam V. Learn more about their work and our iconic boat.


Postscript – March 9, 2022

Following the publication of this piece in our monthly eNewsletter, Gary DeLong wrote to us about Edith. Gary served as Maine Seacoast Mission president from 1999 to 2010 and grew up along Maine’s rocky shores in the Downeast region. The stories he tells provide another small window into Edith’s life. His words share how she impacted the Mission as well as the people around her. As for any organization who has existed as long as the Mission has, history shapes identity. The Mission’s work, people, and communities it takes part infrom 1905 to nowinform the organization’s heritage as well as its spirit. Please enjoy Gary DeLong’s recollections.

I write just to pass on a couple of tidbits Edith Drury. I enjoyed the recent newsletter which even included a photo of Edith. It was fun and appropriate to see Edith being remembered. In her role at the Mission she came to the school on Beals—where I grew up—talking about the importance of fresh vegetables. She handed out seeds and advice about starting a garden all of which made a big impression on kids. I can’t recall her visiting when I was in the eighth grade, which was my first year on the island although my friends remember her and her ruddy complexion. She was the daughter of a highly regarded headmaster at the legendary Prep School, St. Paul’s in Concord, N.H. Samuel Drury. He was an Episcopalian rector who had been offered some even more prestigious positions but turned them down to spend his career at St. Paul’s. 

One of the Mission’s great fans and benefactors was Patricia “Trishy” Schull who lived along the Somes Sound Road and was a close friend and supporter of Edith. When we were trying to recast the role and profile of the Mission, Trishy hosted a couple of cocktail parties and invited all her friends. I mention Trishy because she loved hanging out with Edith on the Sunbeam. The two of them as young women would dive off the cabin of the boat.  Trishy’s husband, David, was a businessman and entrepreneur.  In support of the Mission’s downeast presence, he started two companies in Jonesport: one was a restaurant and the other sardine factory. They both employed a number of people for several years. It’s fun to recall people like that. Looking at the Mission’s website they would not believe the scope of the Mission today but they need to be remembered because people like Edith and her friend Trishy paved the way. 

To learn more about the Mission’s history, visit our growing timeline regularly.

Sunbeam delivers Wednesday Spinners to Matinicus

Sunbeam delivers Wednesday Spinners to Matinicus

The Sunbeam delivered the Wednesday Spinners to Matinicus where they were greeted by residents at the Matinicus Island School.
(Wednesday Spinners members with Matinicus Island residents at the Matinicus Island School. (Photo courtesy Susan Merrill.)

NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME – On November 10, the Wednesday Spinners traveled aboard the Sunbeam to share their passion for spinning with an island community. It was their second island trip in three years. For almost a half-century, the Spinners use old-fashioned wooden spinning wheels, to turn the woolly covering of sheep—called fleece—into yarn.

Some group members gift or sell their handspun yarn. Others make clothing to sell. But the six Spinners who joined with the Sunbeam gave residents of Matinicus an opportunity to observe spinning and to interact with the group. Set up at Matinicus Island School, original member Cynthia Thayer recalled, “We taught and later enjoyed an evening with people who came with their knitting. They talked about the island and told us stories. A couple of people came with their wheels and we helped to get those operational.”

A Wednesday Spinner stands on the shore with the Sunbeam behind her.

The next day—a holiday—children visited and were introduced to the craft. “We get together because we love spinning. If we find people who are really interested in it, we share it,” Cynthia continued. The trip was planned by Island Outreach Director, Douglas Cornman, MA, BC-DMT. He and the Sunbeam crew brought the Spinners to Isle Au Haut in 2019. He shared, “They spin and weave magic. They are kind, they are wise, they are generous. They are grateful. People gravitate to them and enjoy watching what they do, even if they have no particular interest in spinning, weaving, or knitting. There’s something intriguing and entrancing about

their work. It was wonderful to see islanders get excited about a craft that they may not typically engage with or be aware of. It was a positive experience all around and that is why the Mission puts so much effort into these outreach trips.”

For the Matinicus visit, the Spinners were once again excited to see life on an island, talk to people, and witness the day-to-day. “It’s very special to see the Mission’s guests get as much out of the trip as the islanders. I sat there and felt the energy generated in the room between island residents and the Spinners. It is hard to articulate how powerful that energy is, and it is that energy that helps me realize—that reminds me—that there is something in this universe beyond ourselves. I think the islanders felt it.”

Following the Sunbeam's arrival, 3 Matinicus children and a black labrador stand on the dock.

During the trip, a Spinner said Wednesday  is their spiritual home. It is a time they come together as a community. One particular Matinicus student, age 9,  became captivated by their craft. He parted his own wool and the Spinners helped him spin it into yarn. In less than 24 hours, he had turned raw wool into yarn. “You could see him indulge in the process,” remarked Douglas.

“The Sunbeam crew was just fantastic,” said Cynthia, “Of course Jillian is amazing with the food she puts out. She’s always so cheery and happy. The whole experience was extremely positive. I hope we’ll go out again soon.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Covid-19 precautions moved the Wednesday Spinners away from their regular mid-week meetings in each other’s homes. “These days,” explains Cynthia, “we’re spinning down at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor. It’s a big hall and we can spread out.” The group’s sessions have a specific purpose. “What we don’t do is have people come to our group, so they can learn how to spin. We’re there to spin our own work. Many of us teach for pay. Once a person knows how to spin, we see if we have room in the group and ask them to come,” she said.

Visit the Wednesday Spinners, their work, or to get in touch about a lesson via their Facebook page. Want to learn more about Island Outreach? Explore the News or visit the program.

Island Covid Booster Shots Follow Flu Shots

Island Covid Booster Shots Follow Flu Shots

L-R: Director of Island Outreach Douglas Cornman, Director of Island Health Services Sharon Daley, RN, Nurse Peggy Akers, and Assistant to the Island Health Services Director Margaret Snell enroute aboard a mail boat to give Covid booster shots on Maine islands.

NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME — Island Health Services Director Sharon Daley, RN no sooner completed a multi-island run aboard the Sunbeam administering flu shots, when the Mission received a CDC green light to administer Covid vaccination boosters among certain island communities.

Sharon and fellow Sunbeam crew member, Director of Island Outreach & Chaplain Douglas Cornman, are members of the Mission Covid Vaccination Team. In three months, starting in February 2021, that team Covid vaccinated 343 people on seven islands.

On November 1, Douglas said, “Last week, in less than 48-hours, Sharon, Administrative Assistant Margaret Snell, and I, scheduled Covid booster shot trips to seven islands. We secured vaccine. We put fliers together announcing the vaccine booster is available, and posted them on the islands,” Douglas said.

The response from island communities was instantaneous.

“Over the weekend we had over 50 people contact me requesting their booster. In two weeks we’ll be doing boosters on those seven islands. We will have given everyone their booster before their Thanksgiving holiday,” said Douglas.

Thank you Thursday to the Mission Vaccine Team

Thank you Thursday to the Mission Vaccine Team

It’s Thank you Thursday. Today’s shout out of Mission love goes to the entire Mission Covid Vaccine Team.

Mission President John Zavodny, Island Health Services Director Sharon Daley, Island Outreach Director & Chaplain Douglas Cornman, and Mission Board member, Jill Goldthwait express their thanks during a mini-Sunbeam “thank you” cruise to the many good people who helped make a success the months long vaccination clinics on the several islands.

Maureen Giffin, RN, Peggy Akers, NP, EMTs, boat captains, pharmacists, and to everyone who said, “Yes” – we will do what it takes to get this done – thank you. With your help and knowledge 343 people were vaccinated over a three-month period.

This is what community looks like.

Profoundness of Sunbeam Funerals

Profoundness of Sunbeam Funerals

Mission Director of Island Outreach and Chaplain Douglas Cornman.

In 2016, when I was first introduced to the Sunbeam, Island Outreach Director and Chaplain Douglas Cornman, the only crew member aboard, gave me a tour of the boat. I remember walking from the wheelhouse onto the top deck. Douglas explained to me that the two white cylindrical hard-shell cases affixed to the roof held life rafts. If the cases ever hit the water, Douglas said, they open, and the rafts inflate, automatically.
 
Also affixed to the deck, near the cases, were stainless steel tie downs. Those, Douglas said, secured coffins when the
Sunbeam traveled to or from funerals.
 
Funerals? Yes, funerals are an unsung service provided by the
Sunbeam crew for islanders. Here, for the first time, Douglas Cornman, the Sunbeam crew member who officiates funerals, talks about what he says is “one of the most profound aspects of my work.”

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NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME – I have officiated over 11 funerals on the Sunbeam or on island since I started with the Mission in 2014. Now, these are only the funerals for which I’ve officiated the service. The boat has participated in other funerals since I joined the crew.
 
Who is eligible for a Sunbeam funeral? Islanders are eligible. There are no hard rules around this. The funerals I’ve officiated, or the Sunbeam has participated in, in some capacity have been for islanders from islands frequently visited by the Sunbeam.
 
The majority of funerals I’ve officiated have been on Matinicus where the Sunbeam plays a significant role in the life of the island. Matinicus doesn’t have a minister living on the island. It’s also a challenging island to get to because of it’s distance from the main land. I’m the island’s chaplain which is why most of my work officiating funerals is on this island.
 
In 2014-15, when I was still an interim Mission employee, Mission President Rev. Scott Planting asked me to do a fairly comprehensive assessment with islanders regarding what kind of Sunbeam crew member was needed to succeed Rob Benson, who had moved to the Bar Harbor Congregational Church as their minister.
 
I learned islanders want to know who’s going to marry them, and who’s going to bury them.
 
So I’m asked to officiate funerals for families where the Sunbeam or her crew, including the chaplain, has played a significant role in the families’ life. The islands that ask me or the Sunbeam to be involved typically do not have a year ‘round clergy presence.
 
The islands we serve all have active cemeteries, really sacred spaces on islands. No one desecrates an island cemetery.
 
There are people on Matinicus who, every summer, go to the cemetery and clean the grave markers so the lichen doesn’t cover up the names and destroy the markers. People really respect these places. They’re extremely important.
 
With a burial on land there’s a permanence because, whether it’s a full body burial, or a cremation; an urn with cremated remains, you know the essence of that person is permanently placed there. And a marker will always remind people that the person is there.
 
I’ve only dispersed ashes during burials at sea, never a body. I watch the ashes disperse. I watch them touch the water and the waves just carry them out into the sea where even the remains of the ashes, the shape they create, disappears, and once again becomes clear water. It’s as if the spirit of the person is truly released into the water, rejoining the universe. Because you just watch the ashes fade into the water and become part of the sea.
 
The Sunbeam crew gets involved in all kinds of ways. The boat can get involved in helping people grieve and transition when a family member has passed.
 
I think we all need to grieve in our own ways. But grieving doesn’t necessarily equate to sadness. People assume they should feel sad when a loved one dies. But I don’t know that sadness is the emotion that’s always felt.
 
Grief, if grief is an emotion, I think grief is the emotion that’s felt. I’ve been a part of funerals where there has just been so much laughter and joy. And that’s the emotion that is expressed through the grieving process.
 
Something that surprised me. I officiate over weddings and funerals. When I started this work, I thought I would find weddings to be more profound than funerals, but it’s the other way around.
 
I find officiating a funeral or a celebration of life really to be one of the most profound aspects of my work. I really get to know families. I listen to their stories, their grief, their memories. Then we come together. The time we take is really powerful. There’s something really special about walking alongside a family honoring the death of a loved one.
 
Even if I don’t intimately know the person who’s died, I find myself joining in the family’s grief. I think it’s the depth of emotion that families share with me that’s really profound. It’s a gift and I feel fortunate to receive it.

Learn more about the Sunbeam crew’s work.