Nantucket Essays

Sound of Silence

by Robert P. Barsanti

On Saturday afternoons, I have been driving around the island and taking pictures. While the weather continues to be stuck in a damp June-uary, the season has begun. I drove down to Straight Wharf to photograph the boat basin, then out to Cisco Brewers, Cisco Beach, and then back to the head of Main Street. At nine o’clock, in May, with trees laden with leaves, cherry blossoms clustered, and absolutely no cars. Aside from people like me, memorializing the absence and remarking at the silence.

I like to go on tours of destruction. I helped empty the house in Sconset before the ocean pulled it out to sea in the No Name Storm. I drove through snow tunnels to get to Bartlett’s Farm. I watched the hurricane waves batter Nobadeer and the ice creep up Jetties beach. At one point, a woman in my life refused go on tour because she was afraid that the signs would blow out of the ground and hit us. She wasn’t far from wrong.

Nantucket is often wracked by storms. Jim Cantore is our patron saint. However, the storms chew up the beach, wash a house or two out to sea, or knock down a few trees. We stay inside, hope the power stays on, and watch the show. Eventually, the storm ends, the sun comes out, and peace is restored.

Yet, the picture of a deserted Main Street in May may be more destructive than all of the other storms. The glare from the streetlights lights a path up the cobblestones. The moon appears, briefly, over the Pacific Club. The bricks echo no footsteps, the shop doors don’t open, and the windows don’t glow. A lot of rent is being skipped, a lot of credit lines are being extended and a lot of very fancy dresses and blouses are fading in the window. I sat in one of the benches at the head of Main Street and waited for a car to pass. Counted to one hundred, then started again. It’s hard to hear the sound of victory.

Silence does not sound like winning. When your livelihood is tied up in having the cars driving up and down Main Street, the quiet hits you hard in the wallet. You can’t believe it. May looks like May always looks: cold, wet, and miserable. Since you can’t see the enemy, it’s hard to take it seriously. If we had been struck by aliens, or attacked by Russians, we could see them in front of us. If global warming sent us a hurricane or a blizzard, it would stomping over the horizon. Then we would take our beating. The enemy slips among us, leap frogging from cough to cough.

On Nantucket, we won the first battle of this long war. Only one person on Nantucket has died from the virus. There was no beating to justify our precautions; our fears and our horrors did not come to pass. Instead, good sense, neighborly care, and social distance have brought us a tremendous victory that communities across the country and the world would happily trade for. Wuhan, Verona, Manhattan, Miami Beach all look up to our one casualty. All I can hear are the silence of the sirens.

But for people who always think of failure, success is impossible to believe. Instead of crediting the luck and sense that have spared the island, they believe that Covid was a fake, victory was a ruse, and now they have lost again.

In truth, the summer was lost in January. As soon as disease blossomed in New York and Washington state, Daffodil Festival and the Fourth of July water fight was lost, along with the Pops. For people to come to Nantucket and swipe their credit cards with drunken abandon, they have to believe that they weren’t going to die gasping in a hallway. This summer, Main Street was never going to be locked in with cars and the Cobbletones were not going to be harmonizing outside the Club Car. Nothing can bring that drunken peace of mind back, but time and a vaccine. We lost the battle to fear, but we beat the virus.

An old Nantucket High School faculty picture reappeared on-line this week. The old football coach with his wife. Math teachers, history teachers, guidance counselors, phys ed and shop teachers. Once, they taught when the school was old and filing down. They gave you homework. They helped you plan for the Ball. Then they handed you a diploma. Years later, retired, they go for energetic walks, they play golf, they sit on the benches at the head of Main Street. And, as a result of our win, they can keep right on doing that.

Everything that we have done over the last few months saved people. The masks, the quarantine, and the silent Chicken Box were acts of kindness, of love even, for the people who came before us. Our victory came from our sacrifice.

We won their lives.

Victory does not, generally, come from a grand act or the command of a general. It comes from ordinary people, doing kind and ordinary things for each other. I can’t convince the President, I can’t discover a vaccine, and I can’t wind time back. I can wear a mask. I can wash my hands. I can stay home. Small acts of kindness matter more than all of the half-priced apps at Applebees.

Personally, I wear the mask for Ted Anderson. Mad and happy, he stood in front of parishioners, mourners, and the newly married with a glint in his eye and his heart in his hand. “A ring” he said ten thousand times in front of ten thousand couples “is a symbol of eternity. It is a symbol of eternal growth, death, and rebirth.” The ring turns for Ted now, as it will for all of us. I cannot prevent the virus from killing hundred of thousands of Americans. And I can’t bring the Yukons and Suburbans back to Main Street this June. But I can save Ted. And, after so many years, winning the fight against the virus is the least any of us can do for him.

Articles by Date from 2012