Nantucket Essays

Calms of Heaven

by Robert P. Barsanti

We were at Reunion and the President was mad at us.

He did not come out and scold us over our chicken salad and quinoa. He was very proud of our contribution to the school. He celebrated the soldiers and entrepreneurs that our class had presented. But. We were 1.2 million from our goal.

We sat in the brand new cafeteria, looking out over the Green Mountains and nodded politely, finished our dessert, and politely told him to get stuffed. Since my graduation, my college has grown fantastically rich and and has been busy biggering itself. Every dorm I slept in and several that I staggered out of have been razed or re-imagined. The school library is the size of a cruise ship (without a floor act) and every classroom that I slept in has been digitized to a hypersensitive bit. I don’t know what they need my money for. They tell me. They want it for the general fund, or they want it for a new set of ten squash courts, or they want to endow a chair for interpretive dance. And, if they isolated their wants down to needy students or at least the snack bar, I could be cajoled into a few pennies. At every glance, however, were one hundred million dollar icebergs frozen into a deep green sea. The class of 1987 is not the richest class my college has ever produced, nor are we at the time of life when we want to sign over our stock portfolios to the care and feeding of the Office of Advancement. Instead, we have kids in high school and parents in nursing homes. We are worrying about jobs and Medicare and tuition. We are Generation X and don’t want to recontour
the golf course.

On Saturday evening, everyone has mellowed. We sat under tents in the glowing Vermont sunset, drinking craft made local beer and wine, eating grass fed beef, and waiting for the fireworks. In the Vermont beauty, the orange and yellow painted the western Adirondacks and then reflected onto
the eastern Green Mountains. The haze had blown away then revealed the long lines and scalloping of a northern sky. On one of the longest evenings of the year, the light drained very slowly.

Geology had been good to us. No matter what they did to the college, there would always be mountains and green grass and long, lingering sunsets. On the chapel, in the granite, the words “The Strength of the Hills is His Also.” Those hills rise up and over the new squash courts and dining
halls. Further, the timing would also be good. No matter who frowned at us from the lectern, I would pass through the years with this set of people. We lived through the same times, knew the same music, and could fill in the blanks on this one campus. We were good people, all in all, if a bit cheap.
Most of us would return to this spot and to this valley every few years, until we couldn’t. Even then, the valley would still be there.

Reunions happen on Nantucket as well, although they are not haunted by college presidents and their bat winged Advancement Officers. The landscape is fraught with change nonetheless. Restaurants change names, stores move, buildings go up, and hedges grow. But in its geologic core,
Nantucket remains as it has always been. The island remains a small sand hill twenty five miles to sea, perched at the inside splash of the gulf stream. Sometime in July, the waters will warm to a pleasant bath water, the surf will pickup and thirty young people will stand on a sand bar just off of a Cisco    and try to catch a good wave in.

That evening, we will stand in the fading sunset over a grill and enjoy the great blue bowl of the island sky, the first light of the rising planets, and the distant sound of rolling surf. The starlings and bat will dip and feed on mosquitoes, the towels will flap on the line and, for that moment, we can
think about how lucky we are to be living in this time and space.

Unlike a reunion class, it’s hard to keep living in this time and space. In order to return to my central Vermont college, all I had to do was graduate and send a small check for room and board. Remaining on Nantucket requires a thousand small sacrifices, whether it be for hamburger at the Stop and Shop, or for the water bill, or in miles between the kids and their grandparents. There are schools better than, there are jobs richer than, and there are houses nicer than, but the truth of Nantucket lies in that peculiar geology. The strength of the waves is his also.

In reunion, we see those whom we know well, whether they be on the lawnmower or standing on the patio. Year by year, we reunite. They come into the bakery, they walk down Main Street, they stand hip deep in the Cisco waves and look out over the horizon. We are all on this one big beach
together, again. They are back on the mainland.

At my reunion, an older student ran into me. She had graduated from Nantucket High and my old college, then had returned with a dazed boyfriend and a screaming hall of girlfriends. The college had begun distancing itself from her as well, yet the faces were the same, the stories resonated, and the sun set over the same Adirondacks. We stood in the same places, with the same faces, and same stories. I had gone along only a little further down the path. We had seen windmills fall and rise, gyms collapse and rebuild, and good friends fade to earth. The college president was none too thrilled with either of us. But, under the summer stars and crossing planets, the calms of heaven would certainly last the night. And longer.

(I hold my old Historical Association colleague, Nancy Whitcomb, in the light.)

Articles by Date from 2012