Nantucket Essay
Nantucket Essays

Chains of Goodwill

~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~

At a South Shore beach, just up from Cisco, I looked up from my book to see two young men dragging a jet ski down to the water. Through careful and long practice, I have learned how to use sunglasses and eyed the progress with discretion. One pushed, the other pulled, and sand must have done its timeless work to expensive precision mechanics. Nonetheless, they successfully got it into the water. Like many of the days we have had so far, the surf did not overwhelm anyone, but the wind blew from the south. The waves crossed and recrossed each other until they hit the beach, then they rebounded back out into a confused swell.

The taller young man, Chad-1, got on board, started the engine, and zipped out into the waves. Across the beach, older men, the Men in Full, with cars, families, and balances on our credit cards, put down our papers and our books, then looked at each other. Chad-2 stood on the beach with a camera and began filming.

The jet ski and its rider jumped the first wave, skidded over the second one, and went tumbling over the third. I hope it was captured on video. Chad-1 got back on board, opened up the throttle parallel to the shore, stood on the back, and took one gigantic flailing leap over a wave. He rose in the air, then fell ten yards beyond his toy. We stood on the beach and waited. He surfaced, waved for the camera and everyone watching (later) on their computers, found the jet ski and motored sedately into shore. Chad-2 waited for his turn.

I have been Chad. I knew what they were thinking; I have had my share of “Hold my beer” moments. I had been that guy, a long time ago with a much smaller wallet but the same capacity for delusion and self-destruction. My particular path to hell involved mountains and skis. Through the good graces of gravity, I survived the destruction my ego offered and made it into a safe middle age of beach chairs and judgement. Nobody filmed me, nobody posted it on YouTube, and nobody can find the cart wheeling yard sales I had coming down Chute on Mad River Glen.

I remember standing at the top of the Headwall at Tuckerman’s Ravine and trying to pick a path down a slushy and icy cliff face. I had hiked up, carrying my skis and boots, and could not, in good sense, hike back down with my skis on my shoulder, my heart in my feet, and my skull intact. Naturally, I wasn’t alone. Naturally, we all looked at each other. Naturally, we all made it down. Somehow, we didn’t have a GoPro for posterity.

Had a sensible older Man in Full tugged on my sleeve at the top of that ice bowl and suggested that this was a foolish endeavor, I would have wished him well and got down the mountain anyway. All of us Men in Full, sitting on our chairs and pausing in our reading, knew that there wasn’t anything we could do here other than bear witness, call for help, and perhaps find someone to swim out after the wounded with a rescue tube.

Chad’s mistake is to assume that he and his friends exist in a parallel world to the rest of us. In his Redbull world, time runs slower, gravity is less oppressive, and the surface of the water is a downy pillow. The truth that age provides is that we are all on the same planet, subject to the same laws, and connected together in chains of goodwill. One gravity defying leap off the top of a wave could lead to families celebrating Thanksgiving in the ICU and gleeful text messages when Chad squeezed a hand. For the Chads, there was only the moment, the jet ski, and the camera. For the rest of us, there were hundreds of people lined up all around them.

I have spent a good bit of time thinking about those hundreds of people because they routinely save my butt. I no longer drop over headwalls or schuss through a glade of hematoma pines, but I do lose things on a far too regular basis. In the last month, I have left my glasses at a table at the Downyflake, my iPad in a locker at the gym, and, most recently, my phone in a cab.

When you lose something expensive and painful to replace, your heart begins to rise into the air and then fall. With all of my experience in losing things, I knew not to panic, whine, or cry but to wait, retrace my steps, and hope for the best. The best eventually happened. Another passenger in the cab found the phone and called the “If Lost, Please Call Number” and we arranged a meeting. I told them that I would be the fat guy in the yellow shirt. They said they would be at the Sconset Market. After an amusing quiz from two girls in bikinis, I assured them that I was indeed the correct fat guy in a yellow shirt. Then the cabbie parked and I bought everyone an ice cream for their troubles. All education is expensive. The cheapest ones cost money.

I don’t know how much I have learned. I suspect I will lose something valuable in the next week when my head is in the clouds and my glasses are on a table. What I have learned, in the kindest, gentlest way possible, is that nobody, even at the top of the ziggurat, is alone. Each person wants to ease the pain the world has. We are bound to each other in chains of goodwill that money, age, and race can’t quite sever (even though many have tried). The truth that Chad will learn comes to all of us if we survive our youth. We get by with a little help from our friends.

Articles by Date from 2012