Nantucket Essays

The Game of Hope

by Robert P. Barsanti

The seventh hole at the Sconset Golf Club rumbles down hill, over an irrigation ditch and up to a shaggy green for 150 yards. In the fog of history, you can see some smart fellow in plus fours swinging a niblick and dropping a ball, with a mud spatter, onto the green. So I, with 21 century irons, scientifically designed golf balls, and the finest in you tube training, delivered the first ball into the bushes. Then the second ball into the creek. Then I took out my lucky ball, the one that has sat in the bottom of my bag and only appears on the putting green. I addressed it, swung, delivered it into the bushes and drained every last drop of luck from the ball.

I think.

If someone would like to find my lucky golf ball, it has a Nike Swoosh, the number three and the letter B written onto its dots. It may also still have a few remaining prayers and some voodoo left inside. I wish you the best of luck.

I am not a good golfer. I have made my peace with the topped drives, six inch long divots, and shanks of my life. I have removed myself from the polite rules of golf as I walk, alone, around the loop and hit until I am happy. Alas, I cannot remove myself from the rules of physics, which are immutable and unforgiving for the incompetent golfer. They decree that some balls, no matter how often they have been blessed and invoked, are going to be lost until the Boy Scouts go hunting in November.

Golf is a game of hope, not of experience. If it were, we would leave the sticks behind and just walk around a field with three friends and cold beverages. But, we come to the clubhouse, cash in hand, and buy a new sleeve of balls in the hope and expectation that, of the multitudes within me, today Jack Nicklaus would answer the bell and strap on a glove.

Hope is a fine thing, maybe the best thing, but unless you are in Shawshank Prison, it can lead you out into the middle of a tick infested field in search of a #3 Nike Swoosh. We hope that the world will work out better. We hope that racism and prejudice will go the way of the Dodo. We hope to give the world a Coke and teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, but hope is passive. When we hope, we look to the skies and ask for the help that we can’t somehow make for ourselves. My mother, never one to shy away from the barnyard, encouraged me to weigh hope in one hand with something warmer in the other, and figure out which one filled up first.

Hope fueled Andy Dufresne’s scraping; long-term energy is the best use of Hope. Hope should lead me to a driving range every afternoon, a lesson on Wednesdays, and the equanimity to accept bad shots and the rules of Golf. A khaki hope should get you up, make your bed, and get you working on bringing down that rubber tree plant.

Hope isn’t magic. And we live in a world, a nation, and an island dedicated to magical thinking. Unmoored of reality and science, we look to hope as our final refuge against action. When I stand on the seventh hole, I am hoping for the ball to land on the green. Hope needs to overcome the laws of both physics and incompetence in order to somehow bring that landing to pass. Similarly, when people, firm in their personal liberty and rights to ice cream, walk around the Stop and Shop without a mask, they have called on special spell to protect them (and everyone else) from biology.

If you believe in magic, you believe that you are the special one with a lightning bolt on your forehead. Through good works, good breeding, or plain old good thoughts, you have magic and everyone else is a muggle. The world owes you a first class red seat, beyond the velvet rope, along with the enthusiastic thanks of a grateful nation—because you have been blessed with magic. When you replace action with magic, you are bound to be disappointed in the silence of the gods, no matter how many golf balls you tee up. God only speaks in math.

The math is not good. It doesn’t matter if the Hedge Funders invite you to their cocktail parties, support your candidacy with checks, and employ your best friend with a dump truck. A winter storm is coming that will flatten the Sconset Bluffs. It doesn’t matter that you had to come home from prep school early and have been sitting alone all spring, the house party is going to kill people. It doesn’t matter that you need to make hay while the sun shines, the math says that the hay isn’t coming in this year. Hope in one hand…

The math bellows. The island is shifting under our feet. The seals, the jelly fish, the sharks have arrived on a wave of climate change. The waves are sweeping Madaket and Sconset back into the sand bars, which will soon be sprinkled with thousands of lost golf balls. The virus has removed tens of thousands of tourists from the island this year, and perhaps, forever. We can clap our hands over our ears and hope that magic will some how save us. Or we can do the math.

Survival and success require humility and hope. We aren’t immune to the laws of nature, we have just landed some place where those laws come with schools of bluefish, mudflats full of clams, and glorious sunsets. Faced with a world that has changed under and over us, we can put out one hand for all of wishes and accept the warm earthy gift in the other. Or, we can put both of our hands to work.

Articles by Date from 2012