Letter to a Senator

June Third, Two Thousand and Eight

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy


Dear Senator Kennedy:

By now you have no doubt received so many expressions of love and hope and speedy recovery that this letter is certainly just one more scrap of newsprint for a heap of correspondence that must be approaching the size of a mountain.

But we’re writing to let you know that your news hit the Vineyard like a thunderbolt, and how much you have been in the thoughts of Islanders since then.

And as we think about you, we thought you might like to know how the Vineyard is doing these days. Holding its own, we would say, although things have certainly changed a lot since the early nineteen seventies and those explosive, heady times after you introduced the Nantucket Sound Islands Trust Bill. What a fight that was and what a courageous sail you made into uncharted waters, all in the name of protecting the fragile environment on the two Islands. Today there are many old Vineyarders who look around and think, maybe Senator Kennedy’s idea to declare the two Islands federally protected environmental sanctuaries — much like the Cape Cod National Seashore — was a good idea after all. These old Islanders understand now that like so many visionary ideas, the trust bill was an idea ahead of its time and the people of the Vineyard weren’t ready for it.

But that is all so much hindsight; in place of the Kennedy bill we got a compromise named the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. And as compromises go, it has turned out pretty well.

The commission has been in the front lines for the last thirty-plus years in the battle to protect the Vineyard from the ruinous effects of overdevelopment. And it has done a good job — not perfect, but good.

You know all this, of course, but what you may not know because we keep forgetting to say it, is how much Islanders appreciate the pivotal role you played in making it all happen. The land and water commission that has such broad and far-reaching powers has been quite a thing — upheld repeatedly by the state’s highest courts over the years and used as a model for the Cape Cod Commission. We have you to thank for it.

And that got us to thinking about all the years with you, and all the Vineyard moments — good and bad.

There was your interview with the Gazette in the summer of nineteen eighty six when you sat on the Styrons’ front porch in Vineyard Haven, your hair still wet from a morning swim in the harbor, and reeled off the adjectives you associate with the Vineyard. “Beguiling, bewitching, sensitizing. It’s lively. It brings me back to a reality in terms of my senses. And of course a beauty and a fragileness that — I think — makes one’s own senses perhaps more acute and real,” you said.

The summer of nineteen sixty nine and the tragedy at Chappaquiddick was your summer of infamy that has its own place in history, but it is also true that most of those old wounds have faded and healed with time.

At this writing, another summer is just beginning on the Island. The meadows are full of great drifts of daisies and the wind is gusting from the north-northeast off the Vineyard Sound. Soon it will shift to south-southwest — sailing weather. Soon the water will be warm enough for swimming. The chowder and fried clam shacks are open again down at Menemsha.

So we wish you Godspeed in your recovery. We’re glad to see you surrounded by your loving family and we want you to know that you are an important member of the Island family too. We look forward to your continued representation as one of the great American senators in history. The future of the Vineyard still depends in some large measure on your own foresight and vision from some forty years ago, on things like the Kennedy bill and your commitment to help protect the Island from becoming just one more ruined stop in the Northeast corridor.

Hope you can sail over sometime this summer.

With love, from the Vineyard.