Mark Breen, the “Eye on the Sky” guy from the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, shares his thoughts in self-isolation and how the pandemic has been affecting his life.
How are you handling self-isolation?I am trying to keep as much to my normal routine as possible, which, of course, isn’t exactly possible. My morning routine of preparing and delivering the weather has always been at a distance — talking with people on the phone, through emails and using various broadcast technologies. In terms of my home life, our kids are grown, with two of three married. My daughter, a senior at UVM, came home a few weeks before the shelter-at-home order, and we’ve been able to be together, which is wonderful. I’ve finished up a few house projects that I would have likely dragged out a bit longer, and I’ve taken up a few more challenges on my Concept2 rowing machine — I’ll reach 500 kilometers rowing since January tomorrow, with plenty of time to row some more!
What has been the biggest challenge for you?I’ve found it difficult not to be trusting. My friends and family are the foundations of my life, and to think I can’t welcome them into my home, or drop in on them, makes me feel like I somehow don’t feel trusting. I have also found it very challenging to teach the school kids through the Fairbanks Museum’s online solution to this isolation. When I am sharing ideas with young people, and they are reflecting those ideas back with their own, there’s a magic that happens in the learning place. I can’t seem to achieve that same energy online.
What has been the most pleasant surprise?How much I have been in touch with my brothers, sisters and parents. We’ve always been close, but they live hundreds of miles from me. Suddenly, there’s a daily text message stream that includes the laughs, the discussions and the friendly teasing that happens when we are actually together. It makes me wonder why we had to wait for a pandemic to take those few minutes to just stay in touch.
How much of what you’re doing do you think will you carry forward after the pandemic?I’ve done more of my work at home than before, and I expect that will develop into a new pattern, but only to a point. I’ve found an even greater appreciation for the part of my job that connects with people in the classroom and the planetarium. There’s no substitute for live interaction. In my personal life, I will not take for granted those times that we get together with friends and family, to enjoy each other’s company. I’d like to think that I won’t put off picking up the phone or stopping in for a visit. How many of us say, “It’ll wait until tomorrow.” We don’t know what tomorrow has in store, so I want to take advantage of the time we are given.
And what do you feel the lessons will be that come out of all of this?The lesson that should come out of this, is that we are much greater, much more powerful and much happier, when we all work together. It’s too easy to let differences create a divide between any of us. Finding our common strengths creates an opportunity to really grow into the best family, the best community and the best nation and family of nations. And if nothing else, I will never take toilet paper for granted, ever again!