We are all stakeholders

Fri, 05/27/2016 - 12:15pm

This coming Saturday, May 28, the newly refurbished 1876 Captain Noah Dodge House, more commonly known since the 1950s as the Doctor’s House, will be open to the public for two hours, from 2 to 4 p.m. It stands as more than a mere renovation of an historic building.

The word “murmuration” seems most applied to whole flocks of starlings moving as one over open land. Here, the numbers are smaller, they lift in tiny clouds from sunlit wires and settle a few utility poles down the road. I think of swallows, our “air dancers,” performing this finely tuned ballet over the beach — or sanderlings running in a mesmerizing unit across the low tide apron at the water’s edge — clouds of birds writing their own music on the sky and sand.

It is a wonder to witness and I feel badly taking a thing of natural beauty and inexplicable symmetry and using it to describe our human failings but... it does sometimes feel there is a cloud of darkness floating over the island, ready to light when it finds a host, not unlike that monster that lives in the sewer of Derry, Maine (my perennial reference to the evil at the core of “It,” one of the few exceedingly long Stephen King novels I ever read).

Here, perhaps like that monster drawn by a master of horror, it does hone in on our supposed greatest fear, mortality, and a vaguely logical extension thereof, medical services. 

Once more we have managed to come out on the other side of one of these black spells. This one began, or came to light, almost four years ago, well summarized by an editorial noting disturbances, be they over property or personnel, seemed to be cyclical events around the Medical Center. So I am surprised that it was only 25 months ago that I wrote, reacting to a Health Services meeting correctly characterized as one of tech glitches and reactions to past events, one of my future-as-history pieces, going back to memories from the 1960s, when a new doctor arrived: 

It was a very different place, then, going to a doctor on the mainland was not an option available to most of the year round population, the closest most came was maintaining ties with doctors who had left, but were still nearby.

Over the past few years it has often struck me that we did not have the luxury of not supporting the local doctor (there was no Medical Center, the office was in the doctor’s residence). When we lost a doctor we all lost a doctor. We all had to pull together and move forward as difficult as it sometimes was. “Stakeholder” wasn’t a term used to define – and separate – members of the community; we were all stakeholders.

We all felt our parents’ hesitant relief first when it was announced a doctor would be coming, and that final exhale after he had been here a winter. There is nothing of that time to romanticize.

My closing, written well before the debate over the future of the Doctor’s House began in earnest, was penned with some uncertainty; people were willing to acknowledge it over loyalty to their own respective “corners” in what should never have been a battle: “We need all still be stakeholders.”

Since that relatively short time ago, overly ambitious plans were drawn, a financial town meeting called, a back-to-the-drawing-board vote declared, a second meeting set, another vote, on what many felt a more realistic proposal, taken and passed. We all see events through our own lens and, for me, there was a single moment the night of that second meeting, when with an absurd grasping-at-straws comment, a nadir was hit. We began a collective climb out of the darkness into which we had fallen, nay, thrown ourselves.

When the revised plans had been drawn and the project put out to bid only for the awarding of the building contract to be negated by a lack of adequate bonding by the chosen contractor, I feared that turn had been in my mind, no more than wishful thinking.

The project was plagued. Then, the monster was beaten back into the sewer, and kept there by the gift of a mild winter and, perhaps, the threat of a very determined volunteer gardener-lady’s shovel. 

The town truly has not been as dreadful a steward of the Doctor’s House as conventional wisdom would have it. Staggering amounts of money were spent over the years, configuring and re-configuring the structure. When the Medical Center was built, not only was the office relocated, but a reasonably new ambulance bay was removed – rather than enclosed and made into some horrid “but we need the space” addition. The old two-over-two windows were replaced then with utilitarian one-over-ones, a passing indignity more striking in “before” photos now that new ones, more appropriate to the amazingly intact later 19th century exterior, have been installed.

Sometimes it is important to remember what “we,” the town, did not do: we did not squeeze the Medical Center onto the same lot as the Doctor’s House, as was originally proposed; we did not long engage in conversations of selling the lower part of the adjoining Davidson lot once the parcel was acquired; the poor ell, the lesser child of the main house, subjected to the most well-intended but inappropriate renovations, was removed, sating any demolition blood-lust, and we did not long entertain the notion of razing the historic house.

This is not the first time the house has been newly refurbished in anticipation of a new doctor; it is the first time it has been as a single family residence, without public spaces or, more recently, auxiliary housing, incorporated. It is 140 years old and finally returned to its beginning, a fine, dignified residence high on a hill overlooking the sea.

Perhaps, next time that dark cloud of unsettledness passes over it will remember being vanquished and keep moving.